A number of putative nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit clones were isolated by screening a lambda library of Caenorhabditis elegans genomic DNA with a probe derived from the Drosophila melanogaster ard gene (a non-alpha nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit clone). Studies on one of these loci, acr-2, are described; acr-2 is located between sup-7 and unc-6 on the X chromosome. A full-length cDNA was isolated and sequenced. The cDNA encodes a putative non-alpha subunit of a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor that shows many of the conserved features of vertebrate and invertebrate non-alpha nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits. To investigate the functional expression of the subunit, the corresponding cRNA was produced, in vitro, and micro-injected into Xenopus oocytes. When expressed alone acr-2 shows no levamisole-gated channel activity. When co-expressed with a C. elegans alpha subunit (unc-38), which is itself unable to form functional homo-oligomers, acr-2 contributed to the formation of a functional channel. This is the first functional expression of a nematode nicotinic acetylcholine receptor and supports the interpretation that the differentiation between alpha and non-alpha subunits dates back to the earliest stages of the evolution of the metazoa.