The functions of serotonin have been assigned through serotonin- receptor-specific drugs and mutants; however, because a constellation of receptors remains when a single receptor subtype is inhibited, the coordinate responses to modulation of serotonin levels may be missed. Here we report the analysis of behavioural and neuroendocrine defects caused by a complete lack of serotonin signalling. Analysis of the C. elegans genome sequence showed that there is a single tryptophan hydroxylase gene (tph-1) - the key enzyme for serotonin biosynthesis. Animals bearing a tph-1 deletion mutation do not synthesize serotonin but are fully viable. The tph-1 mutant shows abnormalities in behaviour and metabolism that are normally coupled with the sensation and ingestion of food: rates of feeding and egg laying are decreased; large amounts of fat are stored; reproductive lifespan is increased; and some animals arrest at the metabolically inactive dauer stage. This metabolic dysregulation is, in part, due to downregulation of transforming growth factor-β and insulin-like neuroendocrine signals. The action of the C. elegans serotonergic system in metabolic control is similar to mammalian serotonergic input to metabolism and obesity.
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