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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1997 Jul 22;94(15):8232-8237

Quantitative trait loci controlling halothane sensitivity in caenorhabditis elegans.

van Swinderen B, Shook DR, Ebert RH, Cherkasova VA, Johnson TE, Reis RJS, Crowder CM

Departments of Anesthesiology and Molecular Biology/Pharmacology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA.

Genetic analysis is an essential tool for defining the molecular mechanisms whereby volatile anesthetics (VA) disrupt nervous system function. However, the degree of natural variation of the genetic determinants of VA sensitivity has not been determined nor have mutagenesis approaches been very successful at isolating significantly resistant mutant strains. Thus, a quantitative genetic approach was taken toward these goals. Recombinant-inbred strains derived from two evolutionarily distinct lineages of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans were tested for sensitivity to clinically relevant concentrations (0.3-0.5 mM) of the VA halothane. The halothane sensitivities of coordinated movement and male mating behavior were highly variant among the recombinant-inbred strains with a range of EC50 values of 13- and 4-fold, respectively. Both traits were highly heritable (H2 = 0.82, 0.87, respectively). Several strains were found to be significantly resistant to halothane when compared with the wild-type strain N2. A major locus or loci mapping to the middle of chromosome V accounted for more than 40% of the phenotypic variance for both traits. Five weaker loci, four of which interact, explained most of the remaining variance. None of the halothane-sensitivity quantitative trait loci significantly affected behavior in the absence of halothane or halothane's potency for C. elegans immobilization, which requires 5-fold higher drug concentrations. Thus, the quantitative trait loci are unlikely to result from differences in halothane-independent (native) behavior or differences in halothane metabolism or permeability. Rather, these loci may code for targets and/or downstream effectors of halothane in the C. elegans nervous system or for modifiers of such gene products.