Precise levels of specific neurotransmitters are required for appropriate neuronal functioning. The neurotransmitter dopamine is implicated in modulating behaviors, such as cognition, reward and memory. In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the release of dopamine during behavioral plasticity is in part modulated through an acid-sensing ion channel expressed in its eight dopaminergic neurons. A D2-like C. elegans dopamine receptor DOP-2 co-expresses along with a Gαi subunit (GPA-14) in the anterior deirid (ADE) pair of dopaminergic neurons. In follow-up experiments to our recently reported in vitro physical interaction between DOP-2 and GPA-14, we have behaviorally characterized worms carrying deletion mutations in gpa-14 and/or dop-2. We found both mutants to display behavioral abnormalities in habituation as well as associative learning, and exogenous supply of dopamine was able to revert the observed behavioral deficits. The behavioral phenotypes of dop-2 and gpa-14 loss-of-function mutants were found to be remarkably similar, and we did not observe any cumulative defects in their double mutants. Our results provide genetic and phenotypic support to our earlier in vitro results where we had shown that the DOP-2 dopamine receptor and the GPA-14 Gαi subunit physically interact with each other. Results from behavioral experiments presented here together with our previous in-vitro work suggests that the DOP-2 functions as a dopamine auto-receptor to modulate two types of learning, anterior touch habituation and chemosensory associative conditioning, through a G-protein complex that comprises GPA-14 as its Gα subunit.
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