The Unc-119 Family of Neural Proteins is Functionally Conserved Between Humans,DrosophilaandC. Elegans
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C. elegans animals mutant for the unc-119 gene exhibit movement, sensory and behavioral abnormalities. Consistent with a nervous system role, unc-119 reporter genes are expressed throughout the C. elegans nervous system. The UNC-119 protein has strong sequence similarity to the predicted protein from a human gene, HRG4/HsUNC-119, whose transcript is abundant in the retina. Using these similarities, we have identified a Drosphila homolog, DmUNC-119, which is expressed in the Drosophila nervous system. The predicted C. elegans, human and Drosophila gene products are conserved across two domains. Expression of portions of HRG4/HsUNC-119 or DmUNC-119, directed by the unc-119 promoter, can fully rescue the C. elegans unc-119 mutant phenotype. We tested the ability of portions of HRG4/HsUNC-119 to rescue, and found that its function in C. elegans requires the conserved carboxyl terminus, while the dissimilar amino terminus is dispensable. UNC-119, HRG4 and DmUNC-119 constitute members of a new class of neural genes whose common function has been maintained through metazoan evolution.
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