Pentameric ligand-gated ion channels (LGCs) play conserved, critical roles in fast synaptic transmission, and changes in LGC expression and localisation are thought to underlie many forms of learning and memory. The C. elegans genome encodes a large number of LGCs without a known ligand or function. Here, we deorphanize five members of a family of Cys-loop LGCs by characterizing their diverse functional properties that are activated by biogenic amine neurotransmitters. To analyse the neuronal function of these LGCs, we show that a novel serotonin-gated cation channel, LGC-50, is essential for aversive olfactory learning. lgc-50 mutants show a specific defect in learned olfactory avoidance of pathogenic bacteria, a process known to depend on serotonergic neurotransmission. Remarkably, the expression of LGC-50 in neuronal processes is enhanced by olfactory conditioning; thus, the regulated expression of these receptors at synapses appears to represent a molecular cornerstone of the learning mechanism.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience