Transmembrane channel-like (TMC) genes encode a broadly conserved family of multipass integral membrane proteins in animals. Human TMC1 and TMC2 genes are linked to human deafness and required for hair-cell mechanotransduction; however, the molecular functions of these and other TMC proteins have not been determined. Here we show that the Caenorhabditis elegans tmc-1 gene encodes a sodium sensor that functions specifically in salt taste chemosensation. tmc-1 is expressed in the ASH polymodal avoidance neurons, where it is required for salt-evoked neuronal activity and behavioural avoidance of high concentrations of NaCl. However, tmc-1 has no effect on responses to other stimuli sensed by the ASH neurons including high osmolarity and chemical repellents, indicating a specific role in salt sensation. When expressed in mammalian cell culture, C. elegans TMC-1 generates a predominantly cationic conductance activated by high extracellular sodium but not by other cations or uncharged small molecules. Thus, TMC-1 is both necessary for salt sensation in vivo and sufficient to generate a sodium-sensitive channel in vitro, identifying it as a probable ionotropic sensory receptor.
ASJC Scopus subject areas