Regulating the response of a postsynaptic cell to neurotransmitter is an important mechanism for controlling synaptic strength, a process critical to learning. We have begun to define and characterize genes that may control sensitivity to the neurotransmitter serotonin in the nematode Caenorhabditis ekgans by identifjmg serotonin-hypersensitive mutants. We reported previously that mutations in the gene unc-2, which encodes a putative calcium channel subunit, result in hypersensitivity to serotonin. Here we report that mutants defective in the unc-36 gene, which encodes a homologue of a calcium channel auxiliary subunit, are also serotonin-hypersensitive. Moreover, the unc-36 gene appears to be required in the same cells as unc-2 for control of the same behaviors. Mutations in several other genes, including unc-8, unc-10, unc-20, unc-35, unc-75, unc-77, and snt-1 also result in hypersensitivity to serotonin. Several of these mutations have previously been shown to confer resistance to acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, suggesting that they may affect acetylcholine release. Moreover, we found that mutations that decrease acetylcholine synthesis cause defective egg-laying and serotonin hypersensitivity. Thus, acetylcholine appears to negatively regulate the response to serotonin and may participate in the process of serotonin desensitization.

  • Received September 28, 1995.
  • Accepted April 10, 1996.