Caenorhabditis elegans UNC-103 ERG-like potassium channel regulates contractile behaviors of sex muscles in males before and during mating. Academic Article uri icon


  • During mating behavior the Caenorhabditis elegans male must regulate periodic and prolonged protractor muscle contractions to insert his copulatory spicules into his mate. The protractors undergo periodic contractions to allow the spicules to reattempt insertion if a previous thrust failed to breach the vulva. When the spicule tips penetrate the vulva, the protractors undergo prolonged contraction to keep the spicules inside the hermaphrodite until sperm transfer is complete. To understand how these contractions are regulated, we isolated EMS-induced mutations that cause males to execute prolonged contraction inappropriately. Loss-of-function mutations in the unc-103 ERG-like K(+) channel gene cause the protractor muscles to contract in the absence of mating stimulation. unc-103-induced spicule protraction can be suppressed by killing the SPC motor neurons and the anal depressor muscle: cells that directly contact the protractors. Also, reduction in acetylcholine suppresses unc-103-induced protraction, suggesting that UNC-103 keeps cholinergic neurons from stimulating the protractors before mating behavior. UNC-103 also regulates the timing of spicule protraction during mating behavior. unc-103 males that do not display mating-independent spicule protraction show abnormal spicule insertion behavior during sex. In contrast to wild-type males, unc-103 mutants execute prolonged contractions spontaneously within sequences of periodic protractor contractions. The premature prolonged contractions cause the spicules to extend from the male tail before the spicule tips penetrate the vulva. These observations demonstrate that unc-103 controls various aspects of spicule function.

published proceedings

  • J Neurosci

author list (cited authors)

  • Garcia, L. R., & Sternberg, P. W.

citation count

  • 47

complete list of authors

  • Garcia, L Rene||Sternberg, Paul W

publication date

  • January 2003