We describe the molecular cloning and characterization of the unc-64 locus of Caenorhabditis elegans. unc-64 expresses three transcripts, each encoding a molecule with 63-64% identity to human syntaxin 1A, a membrane- anchored protein involved in synaptic vesicle fusion. Interestingly, the alternative forms of syntaxin differ only in their C-terminal hydrophobic membrane anchors. The forms are differentially expressed in neuronal and secretory tissues; genetic evidence suggests that these forms are not functionally equivalent. A complete loss-of-function mutation in unc-64 results in a worm that completes embryogenesis, but arrests development shortly thereafter as a paralyzed L1 larva, presumably as a consequence of neuronal dysfunction. The severity of the neuronal phenotypes of C. elegans syntaxin mutants appears comparable to those of Drosophila syntaxin mutants. However, nematode syntaxin appears not to be required for embryonic development, for secretion of cuticle from the hypodermis, or for the function of muscle, in contrast to Drosophila syntaxin, which appears to be required in all cells. Less severe viable unc-64 mutants exhibit a variety of behavioral defects and show strong resistance to the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor aldicarb. Extracellular physiological recordings from pharyngeal muscle of hypomorphic mutants show alterations in the kinetics of transmitter release. The lesions in the hypomorphic alleles map to the hydrophobic face of the H3 coiled-coil domain of syntaxin, a domain that in vitro mediates physical interactions with similar coiled-coil domains in SNAP-25 and synaptobrevin. Furthermore, the unc-64 syntaxin mutants exhibit allele- specific genetic interactions with mutants carrying lesions in the coiled- coil domain of synaptobrevin, providing in vivo evidence for the significance of these domains in regulating synaptic vesicle fusion.