A novel gene named Helix command-specific 2 (HCS2) was shown to be expressed predominantly in four giant parietal interneurons involved in withdrawal behavior of the terrestrial snail Helix lucorum L. and several single neurons in other ganglia. Decrease in spontaneous electrophysiological activity of neurons in the isolated CNS by 24h incubation in saline with elevated Mg(2+) concentration significantly decreased the number of HCS2-expressing neurons. Five short-term serotonin applications (each of 10microM), during a 24h incubation of the nervous system in saline induced expression of the HCS2 gene in many cells in cerebral, parietal, pleural and pedal ganglia. Dopamine applications under similar conditions were not effective. Application of anisomycin or cycloheximide, known to block protein synthesis, did not prevent the induction of HCS2 expression under serotonin influence. Skin injury elicited a significant increase in the number of HCS2-expressing cells 24h later in pleural and cerebral ganglia. Incubation of the isolated nervous system preparations for three days in culture medium elicited close to a maximum increase in number of HCS2-expressing cells. Elevation of the normal Mg(2+) concentration in the culture medium significantly decreased the number of cells demonstrating HCS2 expression. Application of the cAMP activator forskolin (10microM) increased the expression under Mg(2+), indicating that cAMP was involved in the up-regulation of HCS2. Application of thapsigargin (10microM), known to release Ca(2+) from intracellular stores, was also effective in increasing expression, suggesting participation of Ca(2+) in regulation of HCS2 expression. Cellular groups expressing the HCS2 gene under different conditions seem to be functionally related since it was demonstrated earlier that some neurons constituting these clusters are involved in the withdrawal behavior and the response of the organism to stress stimuli. From these results we suggest that the HCS2 pattern of expression can be down-regulated by a decrease in synaptic activity in the nervous system, and up-regulated by external noxious inputs, as well as the application of neurotransmitters and second messengers known to be involved in the withdrawal behavior and maintenance of isolated ganglia in culture medium. When up-regulated, the HCS2 expression appears, at least in part in neurons, to be involved in the withdrawal behavior.