Deep conservation of genes required for both Drosphila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans sleep includes a role for dopaminergic signaling

Sleep. 2014 Sep 1;37(9):1439-51. doi: 10.5665/sleep.3990.


Objectives: Cross-species conservation of sleep-like behaviors predicts the presence of conserved molecular mechanisms underlying sleep. However, limited experimental evidence of conservation exists. Here, this prediction is tested directly.

Measurements and results: During lethargus, Caenorhabditis elegans spontaneously sleep in short bouts that are interspersed with bouts of spontaneous locomotion. We identified 26 genes required for Drosophila melanogaster sleep. Twenty orthologous C. elegans genes were selected based on similarity. Their effect on C. elegans sleep and arousal during the last larval lethargus was assessed. The 20 most similar genes altered both the quantity of sleep and arousal thresholds. In 18 cases, the direction of change was concordant with Drosophila studies published previously. Additionally, we delineated a conserved genetic pathway by which dopamine regulates sleep and arousal. In C. elegans neurons, G-alpha S, adenylyl cyclase, and protein kinase A act downstream of D1 dopamine receptors to regulate these behaviors. Finally, a quantitative analysis of genes examined herein revealed that C. elegans arousal thresholds were directly correlated with amount of sleep during lethargus. However, bout duration varies little and was not correlated with arousal thresholds.

Conclusions: The comprehensive analysis presented here suggests that conserved genes and pathways are required for sleep in invertebrates and, likely, across the entire animal kingdom. The genetic pathway delineated in this study implicates G-alpha S and previously known genes downstream of dopamine signaling in sleep. Quantitative analysis of various components of quiescence suggests that interdependent or identical cellular and molecular mechanisms are likely to regulate both arousal and sleep entry.

Keywords: C. elegans; Drosophila; Sleep; dopamine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Arousal / genetics
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / growth & development
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism
  • Calcineurin / metabolism
  • Conserved Sequence*
  • Cullin Proteins / genetics
  • Cullin Proteins / metabolism
  • Cyclic AMP / metabolism
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Genes, Helminth
  • Genes, Insect
  • Larva / genetics
  • Larva / physiology
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Models, Animal
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Receptors, Dopamine / genetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine / metabolism
  • Rest / physiology
  • Shaker Superfamily of Potassium Channels / genetics
  • Shaker Superfamily of Potassium Channels / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*
  • Sleep / genetics*
  • Sleep / physiology*


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Cullin Proteins
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Shaker Superfamily of Potassium Channels
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Calcineurin
  • Dopamine