BackgroundThe neuropeptide Y system affects various processes, among others food intake, and is frequently discussed in the context of targeting obesity. Studies in model organisms are indispensable to enable molecular studies in a physiological context. Although the NPY system is evolutionarily conserved in all bilaterians, in the widely used model Caenorhabditis elegans there is controversy on the existence of NPY orthologous molecules. While the FMRFamide-like peptide (FLP)/Neuropeptide receptor-Resemblance (NPR) system in the nematode was initially suggested to be orthologous to the mammalian NPY system, later global phylogenetic studies indicate that FLP/NPR is protostome-specific.MethodsWe performed a comprehensive pharmacological study of the FLP/NPR system in transfected cells in vitro, and tested for functional substitution in C. elegans knockout strains. Further, we phenotypically compared different flp loss-of-function strains. Differences between groups were compared by ANOVA and post-hoc testing (Dunnett, Bonferroni).ResultsOur pharmacological analysis of the FLP/NPR system including formerly functionally uncharacterized NPY-like peptides from C. elegans demonstrates that G protein-coupling and ligand requirements for receptor activation are similar to the human NPY system. In vitro and in vivo analyses show cross-reactivity of NPY with the FLP/NPR system manifesting in the ability of the human GPCRs to functionally substitute FLP/NPR signaling in vivo. The high pharmacological/functional similarities enabled us to identify C. elegans FLP-14 as a key molecule in avoidance behavior.ConclusionsOur data demonstrate the pharmacological and functional similarities of human NPY and C. elegans NPR systems. This adds a novel perspective to current phylogenetic reconstructions of the neuropeptide Y system. NPY and NPR receptors are pharmacologically so similar that the human receptors can functionally compensate for the C. elegans ones, suggesting orthologous relationships. This is also underlined by the presence of NPY-like peptides and parallels in peptide requirements for receptor activation. Further, the results presented here highlight the potential of this knowledge for physiological as well as molecular studies on neuropeptide GPCRs such as the NPY system in the future.