Functional identification and initial characterization of a fish co-receptor involved in aversive signaling

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Cohen, Staci Padove
McCarty, Nael A.
Kubanek, Julia
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Chemoreception plays an important role in predator-prey interactions and feeding dynamics. While the chemoreception of attractant or pleasant tasting compounds has been well studied, aversive chemoreceptive signaling has been difficult to investigate behaviorally in an ecological context because these interactions are species- and context- specific and deterrent compounds vary among prey. Using the coral reef system, this thesis explores on a molecular level the deterrent mechanism underlying detection by fish predators of an aversive compound, in order to gain a greater understanding of predator-prey interactions in this community. Like other organisms that are sessile or slow-moving, marine sponges have special mechanisms for defense from predation, commonly containing aversive-tasting compounds that defend these organisms from predation. To this end, we sought to identify and characterize a fish chemoreceptor that detects one or more of these compounds. We isolated a single cDNA clone encoding RAMP-like triterpene glycoside receptor (RL-TGR), a novel co-receptor involved in the signaling of triterpene glycosides. This co-receptor appears to be structurally and functionally related to receptor activity-modifying proteins (RAMPs), a family of co-receptors that physically associate with and modify the activity of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). Expression in Xenopus oocytes showed that it responds to triterpene glycosides in a receptor-mediated manner and requires co-expression of a GPCR to enable signaling in oocytes; both of these receptors may be components of a larger signaling complex. A 40 bp portion of the gene is conserved across multiple fish species, but is not found in any other organism with a sequenced genome, suggesting that the expression of this receptor is limited to fish species. RL-TGR is the first identified gene encoding a co-receptor that responds to a chemical defense. This finding may lead the way for the identification of many other receptors that mediate chemical defense signaling in both marine and terrestrial environments, as this protein has the potential to represent the first of an entire family of co-receptors that respond to aversive compounds.
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