Biosynthesis of ionotropic acetylcholine receptors requires the evolutionarily conserved ER membrane complex

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Mar 12;110(11):E1055-63. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1216154110. Epub 2013 Feb 19.


The number of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) present in the plasma membrane of muscle and neuronal cells is limited by the assembly of individual subunits into mature pentameric receptors. This process is usually inefficient, and a large number of the synthesized subunits are degraded by endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-associated degradation. To identify cellular factors required for the synthesis of AChRs, we performed a genetic screen in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans for mutants with decreased sensitivity to the cholinergic agonist levamisole. We isolated a partial loss-of-function allele of ER membrane protein complex-6 (emc-6), a previously uncharacterized gene in C. elegans. emc-6 encodes an evolutionarily conserved 111-aa protein with two predicted transmembrane domains. EMC-6 is ubiquitously expressed and localizes to the ER. Partial inhibition of EMC-6 caused decreased expression of heteromeric levamisole-sensitive AChRs by destabilizing unassembled subunits in the ER. Inhibition of emc-6 also reduced the expression of homomeric nicotine-sensitive AChRs and GABAA receptors in C. elegans muscle cells. emc-6 is orthologous to the yeast and human EMC6 genes that code for a component of the recently identified ER membrane complex (EMC). Our data suggest this complex is required for protein folding and is connected to ER-associated degradation. We demonstrated that inactivation of additional EMC members in C. elegans also impaired AChR synthesis and induced the unfolded protein response. These results suggest that the EMC is a component of the ER folding machinery. AChRs might provide a valuable proxy to decipher the function of the EMC further.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / cytology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / genetics
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Membranes / metabolism*
  • Multiprotein Complexes / genetics
  • Multiprotein Complexes / metabolism*
  • Protein Folding
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / genetics
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / metabolism*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • Receptors, GABA-A