A network of G-protein signaling pathways control neuronal activity in C. elegans

Adv Genet. 2009;65:145-192. doi: 10.1016/S0065-2660(09)65004-5.


The Caenorhabditis elegans neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is one of the best studied synapses in any organism. A variety of genetic screens have identified genes required both for the essential steps of neurotransmitter release from motorneurons as well as the signaling pathways that regulate rates of neurotransmitter release. A number of these regulatory genes encode proteins that converge to regulate neurotransmitter release. In other cases genes are known to regulate signaling at the NMJ but how they act remains unknown. Many of the proteins that regulate activity at the NMJ participate in a network of heterotrimeric G-protein signaling pathways controlling the release of synaptic vesicles and/or dense-core vesicles (DCVs). At least four heterotrimeric G-proteins (Galphaq, Galpha12, Galphao, and Galphas) act within the motorneurons to control the activity of the NMJ. The Galphaq, Galpha12, and Galphao pathways converge to control production and destruction of the lipid-bound second messenger diacylglycerol (DAG) at sites of neurotransmitter release. DAG acts via at least two effectors, MUNC13 and PKC, to control the release of both neurotransmitters and neuropeptides from motorneurons. The Galphas pathway converges with the other three heterotrimeric G-protein pathways downstream of DAG to regulate neuropeptide release. Released neurotransmitters and neuropeptides then act to control contraction of the body-wall muscles to control locomotion. The lipids and proteins involved in these networks are conserved between C. elegans and mammals. Thus, the C. elegans NMJ acts as a model synapse to understand how neuronal activity in the human brain is regulated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / ultrastructure
  • Heterotrimeric GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Nerve Net / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Heterotrimeric GTP-Binding Proteins