Extracting calcium traces from populations of neurons is a critical step in the study of the large-scale neural dynamics that govern behavior. Accurate activity extraction requires the correction of motion and movement-induced deformations as well as demixing of signals that may overlap spatially due to limitations in optical resolution. Traditionally, non-negative matrix factorization (NMF) methods have been successful in demixing and denoising cellular calcium activity in relatively motionless or pre-registered videos. However, standard NMF methods fail in animals undergoing significant non-rigid motion; similarly, standard image registration methods based on template matching can fail when large changes in activity lead to mismatches with the image template. To address these issues simultaneously, we introduce a deformable non-negative matrix factorization (dNMF) framework that jointly optimizes registration with signal demixing. On simulated data and real semi-immobilized C. elegans microscopy videos, dNMF outperforms traditional demixing methods that account for motion and demixing separately. Finally, following the extraction of neural traces from multiple imaging experiments, we develop a quantile regression time-series normalization technique to account for varying neural signal intensity baselines across different animals or different imaging setups. Open source code implementing this pipeline is available at https://github.com/amin-nejat/dNMF.
Until now, most brain studies have focused on small numbers of neurons that interact in limited circuits, allowing analysis of individual computations or steps of neural processing. During behaviour, however, brain activity must integrate multiple circuits in different brain regions. Whole-brain recording with cellular resolution provides a new opportunity to dissect the neural basis of behaviour, but whole-brain activity is mutually contingent on behaviour itself, especially for natural behaviours such as navigation, mating or hunting, which require dynamic interaction between the animal, its environment and other animals. Many of the signalling and feedback pathways that animals use to guide behaviour only occur in freely moving animals. Recent technological advances have enabled whole-brain recording in small behaving animals including the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and the larval zebrafish Danio rerio. These whole-brain experiments capture neural activity with cellular resolution spanning sensory, decision-making and motor circuits, and thereby demand new theoretical approaches that integrate brain dynamics with behavioural dynamics. We review the experimental and theoretical methods used to understand animal behaviour and whole-brain activity, and the opportunities for physics to contribute to this emerging field of systems neuroscience.
Animal behavior is shaped both by evolution and by individual experience. Parallel brain pathways encode innate and learned valences of cues, but the way in which they are integrated during action-selection is not well understood. We used electron microscopy to comprehensively map with synaptic resolution all neurons downstream of all mushroom body (MB) output neurons (encoding learned valences) and characterized their patterns of interaction with lateral horn (LH) neurons (encoding innate valences) in \textitDrosophila larva. The connectome revealed multiple \textitconvergence neuron types that receive convergent MB and LH inputs. A subset of these receives excitatory input from positive-valence MB and LH pathways and inhibitory input from negative-valence MB pathways. We confirmed functional connectivity from LH and MB pathways and behavioral roles of two of these neurons. These neurons encode integrated odor value and bidirectionally regulate turning. Based on this, we speculate that learning could potentially skew the balance of excitation and inhibition onto these neurons and thereby modulate turning. Together, our study provides insights into the circuits that integrate learned and innate valences to modify behavior.
From birth to adulthood, an animal’s nervous system changes as its body grows and its behaviours mature. The form and extent of circuit remodelling across the connectome is unknown. We used serial-section electron microscopy to reconstruct the full brain of eight isogenic C. elegans individuals across postnatal stages to learn how it changes with age. The overall geometry of the brain is preserved from birth to adulthood. Upon this constant scaffold, substantial changes in chemical synaptic connectivity emerge. Comparing connectomes among individuals reveals substantial connectivity differences that make each brain partly unique. Comparing connectomes across maturation reveals consistent wiring changes between different neurons. These changes alter the strength of existing connections and create new connections. Collective changes in the network alter information processing. Over development, the central decision-making circuitry is maintained whereas sensory and motor pathways substantially remodel. With age, the brain progressively becomes more feedforward and discernibly modular. Developmental connectomics reveals principles that underlie brain maturation.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.
Animals exhibit different behavioral responses to the same sensory cue depending on their internal state at a given moment. How and where in the brain are sensory inputs combined with state information to select an appropriate behavior? Here, we investigate how food deprivation affects olfactory behavior in Drosophila larvae. We find that certain odors repel well-fed animals but attract food-deprived animals and that feeding state flexibly alters neural processing in the first olfactory center, the antennal lobe. Hunger differentially modulates two output pathways required for opposing behavioral responses. Upon food deprivation, attraction-mediating uniglomerular projection neurons show elevated odor-evoked activity, whereas an aversion-mediating multiglomerular projection neuron receives odor-evoked inhibition. The switch between these two pathways is regulated by the lone serotonergic neuron in the antennal lobe, CSD. Our findings demonstrate how flexible behaviors can arise from state-dependent circuit dynamics in an early sensory processing center.
Natural goal-directed behaviors often involve complex sequences of many stimulus-triggered components. Understanding how brain circuits organize such behaviors requires mapping the interactions between an animal, its environment, and its nervous system. Here, we use continuous brain-wide neuronal imaging to study the full performance of mating by the C. elegans male. We show that as each mating unfolds in its own sequence of component behaviors, the brain operates similarly between instances of each component, but distinctly between different components. When the full sensory and behavioral context is taken into account, unique roles emerge for each neuron. Functional correlations between neurons are not fixed, but change with behavioral dynamics. From the contribution of individual neurons to circuits, our study shows how diverse brain-wide dynamics emerge from the integration of sensory perception and motor actions within their natural context.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.
Animals exhibit behavioral and neural responses that persist on longer timescales than transient or fluctuating stimulus inputs. Here, we report that \textitCaenorhabditis elegans uses feedback from the motor circuit to a sensory processing interneuron to sustain its motor state during thermotactic navigation. By imaging circuit activity in behaving animals, we show that a principal postsynaptic partner of the AFD thermosensory neuron, the AIY interneuron, encodes both temperature and motor state information. By optogenetic and genetic manipulation of this circuit, we demonstrate that the motor state representation in AIY is a corollary discharge signal. RIM, an interneuron that is connected with premotor interneurons, is required for this corollary discharge. Ablation of RIM eliminates the motor representation in AIY, allows thermosensory representations to reach downstream premotor interneurons, and reduces the animal’s ability to sustain forward movements during thermotaxis. We propose that feedback from the motor circuit to the sensory processing circuit underlies a positive feedback mechanism to generate persistent neural activity and sustained behavioral patterns in a sensorimotor transformation.
Body temperature homeostasis is an essential function that relies upon the integration of the outputs from multiple classes of cooling- and warming-responsive cells. The computations that integrate these diverse outputs to control body temperature are not understood. Here we discover a new set of Warming Cells (WCs), and show that the outputs of these WCs and previously described Cooling Cells (CCs1) are combined in a cross-inhibition computation to drive thermal homeostasis in larval Drosophila. We find that WCs and CCs are opponent sensors that operate in synchrony above, below, and near the homeostatic set-point, with WCs consistently activated by warming and inhibited by cooling, and CCs the converse. Molecularly, these opponent sensors rely on overlapping combinations of Ionotropic Receptors to detect temperature changes: Ir68a, Ir93a, and Ir25a for WCs; Ir21a, Ir93a, and Ir25a for CCs. Using a combination of optogenetics, sensory receptor mutants, and quantitative behavioral analysis, we find that the larva uses flexible cross-inhibition of WC and CC outputs to locate and stay near the homeostatic set-point. Balanced cross-inhibition near the set-point suppresses any directed movement along temperature gradients. Above the set-point, WCs mediate avoidance to warming while cross-inhibiting avoidance to cooling. Below the set-point, CCs mediate avoidance to cooling while cross-inhibiting avoidance to warming. Our results demonstrate how flexible cross-inhibition between warming and cooling pathways can orchestrate homeostatic thermoregulation.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.
Extracting calcium traces from the neurons of C. elegans is an important problem, enabling the study of individual neuronal activity and the large-scale dynamics that govern behavior. Traditionally, non-negative matrix factorization (NMF) methods have been successful in demixing and denoising cellular calcium activity in relatively motionless or pre-registered videos. However, in the case of C. elegans or other animal models where motion compensation methods fail to stabilize the effect of even mild motion in the imaging data, standard NMF methods fail to capture cellular footprints since these footprints are variable in time. In this work, we introduce deformable non-negative matrix factorization (dNMF), which models the motion trajectory of the underlying image space using a polynomial basis function. Spatial footprints and neural activity are optimized jointly with motion trajectories in a matrix tri-factorization setting. On simulated data, dNMF is demonstrated to outperform currently available demixing methods as well as methods that account for motion and demixing separately. Furthermore, we display the practical utility of our approach in extracting calcium traces from C. elegans microscopy videos. The extracted traces elucidate spontaneous neural activity as well as responses to stimuli. Open source code implementing this pipeline is available at https://github.com/amin-nejat/dNMF
Single-beam scanning electron microscopes (SEM) are widely used to acquire massive datasets for biomedical study, material analysis, and fabrication inspection. Datasets are typically acquired with uniform acquisition: applying the electron beam with the same power and duration to all image pixels, even if there is great variety in the pixels' importance for eventual use. Many SEMs are now able to move the beam to any pixel in the field of view without delay, enabling them, in principle, to invest their time budget more effectively with non-uniform imaging.
Comprehensively resolving single neurons and their cellular identities from whole-brain fluorescent images is a major challenge. We achieve this in C. elegans through the engineering and use of a multicolor transgene called NeuroPAL (a Neuronal Polychromatic Atlas of Landmarks). NeuroPAL worms share a stereotypical multicolor fluorescence map for the entire hermaphrodite nervous system that allows comprehensive determination of neuronal identities. Neurons labeled with NeuroPAL do not exhibit fluorescence in the green, cyan, or yellow emission channels, allowing the transgene to be used with numerous reporters of gene expression or neuronal dynamics. Here we showcase three studies that leverage NeuroPAL for nervous-system-wide neuronal identification. First, we determine the brainwide expression patterns of all metabotropic receptors for acetylcholine, GABA, and glutamate, completing a map of this communication network. Second, we uncover novel changes in cell fate caused by transcription factor mutations. Third, we record brainwide activity in response to attractive and repulsive chemosensory cues, characterizing multimodal coding and novel neuronal asymmetries for these stimuli. We present a software package that enables semi-automated determination of all neuronal identities based on color and positional information. The NeuroPAL framework and software provide a means to design landmark atlases for other tissues and organisms. In conclusion, we expect NeuroPAL to serve as an invaluable tool for gene expression analysis, neuronal fate studies, and for mapping whole-brain activity patterns.
Temperature is a key control parameter of biological processes, but measuring and controlling temperatures on a cellular-length scale in living organisms remains an outstanding challenge. Applying nanoscale-thermometry techniques to early embryos, we study cell divisions in a highly controlled manner using local laser heating and real-time in vivo temperature readout. Nitrogen-vacancy centers in nanodiamonds, incorporated into the cells, allow us to map out the temperature distribution of a locally heated embryo with submicrometer spatial resolution and high sensitivity. The simultaneous cell-division imaging under controlled laser heating is used to achieve cell-cycle timing control and inversion, providing insights into timing-regulation mechanisms during early embryogenesis. Understanding the coordination of cell-division timing is one of the outstanding questions in the field of developmental biology. One active control parameter of the cell-cycle duration is temperature, as it can accelerate or decelerate the rate of biochemical reactions. However, controlled experiments at the cellular scale are challenging, due to the limited availability of biocompatible temperature sensors, as well as the lack of practical methods to systematically control local temperatures and cellular dynamics. Here, we demonstrate a method to probe and control the cell-division timing in Caenorhabditis elegans embryos using a combination of local laser heating and nanoscale thermometry. Local infrared laser illumination produces a temperature gradient across the embryo, which is precisely measured by in vivo nanoscale thermometry using quantum defects in nanodiamonds. These techniques enable selective, controlled acceleration of the cell divisions, even enabling an inversion of division order at the two-cell stage. Our data suggest that the cell-cycle timing asynchrony of the early embryonic development in C. elegans is determined independently by individual cells rather than via cell-to-cell communication. Our method can be used to control the development of multicellular organisms and to provide insights into the regulation of cell-division timings as a consequence of local perturbations.
The development of systems combining rapid volumetric imaging with three-dimensional tracking has enabled the measurement of brain-wide dynamics in freely behaving animals such as worms, flies, and fish. These advances provide an exciting opportunity to understand the organization of neural circuits in the context of voluntary and natural behaviors. In this Comment, we highlight recent progress in this burgeoning area of research.
Thermosensation is critical for avoiding thermal extremes and regulating body temperature. While thermosensors activated by noxious temperatures respond to hot or cold, many innocuous thermosensors exhibit robust baseline activity and lack discrete temperature thresholds, suggesting they are not simply warm and cool detectors. Here, we investigate how the aristal Cold Cells encode innocuous temperatures in Drosophila. We find they are not cold sensors but cooling-activated and warming-inhibited phasic thermosensors that operate similarly at warm and cool temperatures; we propose renaming them “Cooling Cells.” Unexpectedly, Cooling Cell thermosensing does not require the previously reported Brivido Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels. Instead, three Ionotropic Receptors (IRs), IR21a, IR25a, and IR93a, specify both the unique structure of Cooling Cell cilia endings and their thermosensitivity. Behaviorally, Cooling Cells promote both warm and cool avoidance. These findings reveal a morphogenetic role for IRs and demonstrate the central role of phasic thermosensing in innocuous thermosensation.
Summary Odor perception allows animals to distinguish odors, recognize the same odor across concentrations, and determine concentration changes. How the activity patterns of primary olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs), at the individual and population levels, facilitate distinguishing these functions remains poorly understood. Here, we interrogate the complete ORN population of the Drosophila larva across a broadly sampled panel of odorants at varying concentrations. We find that the activity of each ORN scales with the concentration of any odorant via a fixed dose-response function with a variable sensitivity. Sensitivities across odorants and ORNs follow a power-law distribution. Much of receptor sensitivity to odorants is accounted for by a single geometrical property of molecular structure. Similarity in the shape of temporal response filters across odorants and ORNs extend these relationships to fluctuating environments. These results uncover shared individual- and population-level patterns that together lend structure to support odor perceptions.
The “connectome,” a comprehensive wiring diagram of synaptic connectivity, is achieved through volume electron microscopy (vEM) analysis of an entire nervous system and all associated non-neuronal tissues. White et al. (1986) pioneered the fully manual reconstruction of a connectome using Caenorhabditis elegans. Recent advances in vEM allow mapping new C. elegans connectomes with increased throughput, and reduced subjectivity. Current vEM studies aim to not only fill the remaining gaps in the original connectome, but also address fundamental questions including how the connectome changes during development, the nature of individuality, sexual dimorphism, and how genetic and environmental factors regulate connectivity. Here we describe our current vEM pipeline and projected improvements for the study of the C. elegans nervous system and beyond.
To integrate changing environmental cues with high spatial and temporal resolution is critical for animals to orient themselves. Drosophila larvae show an effective motor program to navigate away from light sources. How the larval visual circuit processes light stimuli to control navigational decision remains unknown. The larval visual system is composed of two sensory input channels, Rhodopsin5 (Rh5) and Rhodopsin6 (Rh6) expressing photoreceptors (PRs). We here characterize how spatial and temporal information are used to control navigation. Rh6-PRs are required to perceive temporal changes of light intensity during head casts, while Rh5-PRs are required to control behaviors that allow navigation in response to spatial cues. We characterize how distinct behaviors are modulated and identify parallel acting and converging features of the visual circuit. Functional features of the larval visual circuit highlight the principle of how early in a sensory circuit distinct behaviors may be computed by partly overlapping sensory pathways.
Neural plasticity, the ability of a neuron to change its cellular properties in response to past experiences, underpins the nervous system’s capacity to form memories and actuate behaviors. How different plasticity mechanisms act together in vivo and at a cellular level to transform sensory information into behavior is not well understood. Here we show that in the nematode C. elegans two plasticity mechanisms, sensory adaptation and presynaptic plasticity, act within a single cell to encode thermosensory information and actuate a temperature-preference memory. Sensory adaptation enables the primary thermosensory neuron, AFD, to adjust the temperature range of its sensitivity to the local environment, thereby optimizing its ability to detect temperature fluctuations associated with migration. Presynaptic plasticity transforms this thermosensory information into a behavioral preference by gating synaptic communication between sensory neuron AFD and its postsynaptic partner, AIY. The gating of synaptic communication is regulated at AFD presynaptic sites by the conserved kinase nPKC epsilon Bypassing or altering AFD presynaptic plasticity predictably changes the learned behavioral preferences without affecting sensory responses. Our findings indicate that two distinct and modular neuroplasticity mechanisms function together within a single sensory neuron to encode multiple components of information required to enact thermotactic behavior. The integration of these plasticity mechanisms result in a single-cell logic system that can both represent sensory stimuli and guide memory-based behavioral preference.
Many organisms—from bacteria to nematodes to insect larvae—navigate their environments by biasing random movements. In these organisms, navigation in isotropic environments can be characterized as an essentially diffusive and undirected process. In stimulus gradients, movement decisions are biased to drive directed navigation toward favorable environments. How does directed navigation in a gradient modulate random exploration either parallel or orthogonal to the gradient? Here, we introduce methods originally used for analyzing protein folding trajectories to study the trajectories of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and the Drosophila larva in isotropic environments, as well as in thermal and chemical gradients. We find that the statistics of random exploration in any direction are little affected by directed movement along a stimulus gradient. A key constraint on the behavioral strategies of these organisms appears to be the preservation of their capacity to continuously explore their environments in all directions even while moving toward favorable conditions.