feh-1 and apl-1, the Caenorhabditis elegans orthologues of mammalian Fe65 and beta-amyloid precursor protein genes, are involved in the same pathway that controls nematode pharyngeal pumping.
The multigenic family of mammalian Fe65s encodes three highly similar proteins with the same modular organisation: a WW domain and two phosphotyrosine-binding domains. The PTB2 domain of these proteins binds to the cytosolic domains of the Alzheimer's beta-amyloid precursor protein APP and related proteins APLP1 and APLP2, generating a highly redundant system that is hard to dissect by reverse genetics. By searching potential Fe65-like genes in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, we identified a single gene, feh-1 (Fe65 homolog-1), encoding a protein with a high sequence similarity to mammalian Fe65s. FEH-1 is also functionally related to mammalian orthologues; in fact its PTB2 domain binds to APL-1, the product of the C. elegans orthologue of APP. Staining with specific antibodies show that the neuromuscular structures of the pharynx are the sites in which FEH-1 is present at highest levels. Expression studies with reporters indicate that the feh-1 gene is also expressed by a subset of the worm neurons. We generated and isolated a deletion allele of feh-1, and the corresponding homozygous mutants arrest as late embryos or as L1 larvae, demonstrating for the first time an essential role for a Fe65-like gene in vivo. The pharynx of homozygous larvae does not contract and the worms cannot feed. Analysis of pharyngeal pumping in heterozygous worms and in feh-1 RNA-interfered worms indicates that dosage of feh-1 function affects the rate of pharyngeal contraction in C. elegans. Interference with apl-1 double-stranded RNA showed a similar effect on pharyngeal pumping, suggesting that FEH-1 and APL-1 are involved in the same pathway. The non-redundant system of the nematode will prove useful for studying the basic biology of the Fe65-APP interaction and the molecular events regulated by this evolutionarily conserved system of interacting proteins.