Nature 1994 Feb 3;367(6462):467-470
Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York,
New York 10027.
Genetic screening has identified a group of mec (mechanosensory)
genes that are required for the function of a set of six
touch-receptor neurons in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Such
genes potentially encode components of the mechanosensory apparatus.
We have cloned one of these genes, mec-10, which is a member of the
degenerin gene family (genes such as mec-4 and deg-1 that can be
mutated to cause neurodegeneration). Because components of an
amiloride-sensitive sodium channel (alpha, beta and gamma rENaC) from
rat share considerable sequence similarity with the C. elegans genes,
it is likely that degenerins may function as channel proteins. Here
we show that two degenerin homologues (mec-4 and mec-10) are
expressed in the same cells, although each provides a unique
function. Based on genetic data of mutations affecting mec-10-induced
degeneration, we propose that the products of three genes (mec-4,
mec-10 and mec-6) form a complex needed for mechanosensation, and
that several other mec genes may be important in regulating the
putative channel complex.