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The unc-17 gene encodes the vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT) in Caenorhabditis elegans. unc-17 reduction-of-function mutants are small, slow growing, and uncoordinated. Several independent unc-17 alleles are associated with a glycine-to-arginine substitution (G347R), which introduces a positive charge in the ninth transmembrane domain (TMD) of UNC-17. To identify proteins that interact with UNC-17/VAChT, we screened for mutations that suppress the uncoordinated phenotype of UNC-17(G347R) mutants. We identified several dominant allele-specific suppressors, including mutations in the sup-1 locus. The sup-1 gene encodes a single-pass transmembrane protein that is expressed in a subset of neurons and in body muscles. Two independent suppressor alleles of sup-1 are associated with a glycine-to-glutamic acid substitution (G84E), resulting in a negative charge in the SUP-1 TMD. A sup-1 null mutant has no obvious deficits in cholinergic neurotransmission and does not suppress unc-17 mutant phenotypes. Bimolecular fluorescence complementation (BiFC) analysis demonstrated close association of SUP-1 and UNC-17 in synapse-rich regions of the cholinergic nervous system, including the nerve ring and dorsal nerve cords. These observations suggest that UNC-17 and SUP-1 are in close proximity at synapses. We propose that electrostatic interactions between the UNC-17(G347R) and SUP-1(G84E) TMDs alter the conformation of the mutant UNC-17 protein, thereby restoring UNC-17 function; this is similar to the interaction between UNC-17/VAChT and synaptobrevin.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





1315 - 1325


Alleles, Amino Acid Substitution, Animals, Animals, Genetically Modified, Caenorhabditis elegans, Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins, Gene Expression Regulation, Genes, Suppressor, Genetic Complementation Test, Membrane Proteins, Mutation, Nervous System, Protein Structure, Tertiary, Synapses, Vesicular Acetylcholine Transport Proteins