The Drosophila melanogaster genes Passover and l(l)ogre and the Caenorhabditis elegans gene unc-7 define a gene family whose function is not known. We have isolated and characterized the C. elegans gene eat-5, which is required for synchronized pharyngeal muscle contractions, and find that it is a new member of this family. Simultaneous electrical and video recordings reveal that in eat-5 mutants, action potentials of muscles in the anterior and posterior pharynx are unsynchronized. Injection of carboxyfluorescein into muscles of the posterior pharynx demonstrates that all pharyngeal muscles are dye-coupled in wild-type animals; in eat-5 mutants, however, muscles of the anterior pharynx are no longer dye-coupled to posterior pharyngeal muscles. We show that a gene fusion of eat-5 to the green fluorescent protein is expressed in pharyngeal muscles. unc-7 and eat-5 are two of at least sixteen members of this family in C. elegans as determined by database searches and PCR-based screens. The amino acid sequences of five of these members in C. elegans have been deduced from cDNA sequences. Polypeptides of the family are predicted to have four transmembrane domains with cytoplasmic amino and carboxyl termini. We have constructed fusions of one of these polypeptides with β-galactosidase and with green fluorescent protein. The fusion proteins appear to be localized in a punctate pattern at or near plasma membranes. We speculate that this gene family is required for the formation of gap junctions.