Striated muscle contraction is elicited by the release of stored calcium ions through ryanodine receptor channels in the sarcoplasmic reticulum. ryr-1 is a C. elegans ryanodine receptor homologue that is expressed in body-wall muscle cells used for locomotion. Using genetic methods, we show that ryr-1 is the previously identified locus unc-68. First, transposon-induced deletions within ryr-1 are alleles of unc-68. Second, transformation of unc-68 mutants with ryr-1 genomic DNA results in rescue of the Unc phenotype. unc-68 mutants move poorly, exhibiting an incomplete flaccid paralysis, yet have normal muscle ultrastructure. The mutants are insensitive to the paralytic effects of ryanodine, and lack detectable ryanodine-binding activity. The Unc-68 phenotype suggests that ryanodine receptors are not essential for excitation-contraction coupling in nematodes, but act to amplify a (calcium) signal that is sufficient for contraction.

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