Acetylcholinesterase (AChE, EC 22.214.171.124) is responsible for the termination of cholinergic nerve transmission. It is the target of organophosphates and carbamates, two types of chemical pesticides being used extensively in agriculture and veterinary medicine against insects and nematodes. Whereas there is usually one single gene encoding AChE in insects, nematodes are one of the rare phyla where multiple ace genes have been unambiguously identified. We have taken advantage of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans model to identify the four genes encoding AChE in this species. Two genes, ace-1
, encode two major AChEs with different pharmacological properties and tissue repartition: ace-1
is expressed in muscle cells and a few neurons, whereas ace-2
is mainly expressed in motoneurons. ace-3
represents a minor proportion of the total AChE activity and is expressed only in a few cells, but it is able to sustain double null mutants ace-1
. It is resistant to usual cholinesterase inhibitors. ace-4
was transcribed but the corresponding enzyme was not detected in vivo.