GAP junctions and NCA cation channels are critical for developmentally timed sleep and arousal in caenorhabditis elegans

Huiyan Huang, Dustin J. Hayden, Chen Tseh Zhu, Heather L. Bennett, Vivek Venkatachalam, Lukas L. Skuja, Anne C. Hart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


An essential characteristic of sleep is heightened arousal threshold, with decreased behavioral response to external stimuli. The molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying arousal threshold changes during sleep are not fully understood. We report that loss of UNC-7 or UNC-9 innexin function dramatically reduced sleep and decreased arousal threshold during developmentally timed sleep in Caenorhabditis elegans. UNC-7 function was required in premotor interneurons and UNC-9 function was required in motor neurons in this paradigm. Simultaneous transient overexpression of UNC-7 and UNC-9 was sufficient to induce anachronistic sleep in adult animals. Moreover, loss of UNC-7 or UNC-9 suppressed the increased sleep of EGL-4 gain-of-function animals, which have increased cyclic-GMP–dependent protein kinase activity. These results suggest C. elegans gap junctions may act downstream of previously identified sleep regulators. In other paradigms, the NCA cation channels act upstream of gap junctions. Consistent with this, diminished NCA channel activity in C. elegans robustly increased arousal thresholds during sleep bouts in L4-to-adult developmentally timed sleep. Total time in sleep bouts was only modestly increased in animals lacking NCA channel auxiliary subunit UNC-79, whereas increased channel activity dramatically decreased sleep. Loss of EGL-4 or innexin proteins suppressed UNC-79 loss-of-function sleep and arousal defects. In Drosophila, the ion channel narrow abdomen, an ortholog of the C. elegans NCA channels, drive the pigment dispersing factor (PDF) neuropeptide release, regulating circadian behavior. However, in C. elegans, we found that loss of the PDF receptor PDFR-1 did not suppress gain-of-function sleep defects, suggesting an alternative downstream pathway. This study emphasizes the conservation and importance of neuronal activity modulation during sleep, and unequivocally demonstrates that gap junction function is critical for normal sleep.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1369-1381
Number of pages13
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • CGMP-dependent kinase
  • Caenorhabditis elegans sleep
  • Gap junction
  • NCA channel


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