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Content archived on 2024-05-29

The role of neuronal compartmentalization in generating specific behavioural responses in C. elegans

Final Activity Report Summary - KEBUSCH (The role of neuronal compartmentalisation in generating specific behavioural responses in C. elegans)

A major determinant of an organism's survival is its ability to forage, to locate and harvest food. Our lab showed previously that sensing the concentration of ambient oxygen plays a key role in regulating feeding. In the context of this behavioural paradigm, I aimed, in my project, to create a detailed understanding of the behavioural strategies involved, and to unravel the functioning of the neural circuit underlying it, how neural computation carried out in specific neurons generates the behaviour.

For this I developed novel behavioural assays, as well as the image analysis and quantification tools to investigate worm locomotion on food. My observations from these assays suggest that the biased random walk model thought to govern C. elegans chemotaxis responses is insufficient to fully explain their locomotory patterns. Controlled swings of the head regulated by sensory cues appear to contribute substantially to worm navigation. Part of the neural circuit of head neurons that controls these head swings has tentatively been identified through the use of ablations and genetic mutants.

A central aspect of analysing the functioning of the nervous system is to record their electrical activity. For this, it is highly desirable to target proteins that monitor neural activity to specific neurons, and within these neurons, to their synapses. Using the Multisite Gateway cloning system, I created a library of different genes and promoters that can be freely combined to create fusion proteins. This library was used to target genetically encoded calcium sensors to the synapses of a specified subset of neurons. I also established the use of a light-gated cation channel, Channelrhodopsin, which allows to directly manipulating the electrical activity of individual neurons involved in behavioural responses to oxygen.