Publications by Year: 2010

Garrity, P., Goodman, M., Samuel, A.D. & Sengupta, P. Running hot and cold: behavioral strategies, neural circuits, and the molecular machinery for thermotaxis in C. elegans and Drosophila. Genes and Development 24, 2365-2382 (2010). WebsiteAbstract
Like other ectotherms, the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster rely on behavioral strategies to stabilize their body temperature. Both animals use specialized sensory neurons to detect small changes in temperature, and the activity of these thermosensors governs the neural circuits that control migration and accumulation at preferred temperatures. Despite these similarities, the underlying molecular, neuronal, and computational mechanisms responsible for thermotaxis are distinct in these organisms. Here, we discuss the role of thermosensation in the development and survival of C. elegans and Drosophila, and review the behavioral strategies, neuronal circuits, and molecular networks responsible for thermotaxis behavior.
Ha, H., et al. Functional Organization of a Neural Network for Aversive Olfactory Learning in Caenorhabditis elegans. Neuron 68, 6, 1173-1186 (2010). WebsiteAbstract
Many animals use their olfactory systems to learn to avoid dangers, but how neural circuits encode naive and learned olfactory preferences, and switch between those preferences, is poorly understood. Here, we map an olfactory network, from sensory input to motor output, which regulates the learned olfactory aversion of Caenorhabditis elegans for the smell of pathogenic bacteria. Naive animals prefer smells of pathogens but animals trained with pathogens lose this attraction. We find that two different neural circuits subserve these preferences, with one required for the naive preference and the other specifically for the learned preference. Calcium imaging and behavioral analysis reveal that the naive preference reflects the direct transduction of the activity of olfactory sensory neurons into motor response, whereas the learned preference involves modulations to signal transduction to downstream neurons to alter motor response. Thus, two different neural circuits regulate a behavioral switch between naive and learned olfactory preferences.
Fang-Yen, C., et al. Biomechanical analysis of gait adaptation in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107, 47, 20323-20328 (2010). WebsiteAbstract
To navigate different environments, an animal must be able to adapt its locomotory gait to its physical surroundings. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, between swimming in water and crawling on surfaces, adapts its locomotory gait to surroundings that impose approximately 10,000-fold differences in mechanical resistance. Here we investigate this feat by studying the undulatory movements of C. elegans in Newtonian fluids spanning nearly five orders of magnitude in viscosity. In these fluids, the worm undulatory gait varies continuously with changes in external load: As load increases, both wavelength and frequency of undulation decrease. We also quantify the internal viscoelastic properties of the worm’s body and their role in locomotory dynamics. We incorporate muscle activity, internal load, and external load into a biomechanical model of locomotion and show that (i) muscle power is nearly constant across changes in locomotory gait, and (ii) the onset of gait adaptation occurs as external load becomes comparable to internal load. During the swimming gait, which is evoked by small external loads, muscle power is primarily devoted to bending the worm’s elastic body. During the crawling gait, evoked by large external loads, comparable muscle power is used to drive the external load and the elastic body. Our results suggest that C. elegans locomotory gait continuously adapts to external mechanical load in order to maintain propulsive thrust.
Luo, L., et al. Navigational decision-making in Drosophila thermotaxis. Journal of Neuroscience 30, 4261-4272 (2010). WebsiteAbstract

A mechanistic understanding of animal navigation requires quantitative assessment of the sensorimotor strategies used during navigation and quantitative assessment of how these strategies are regulated by cellular sensors. Here, we examine thermotactic behavior of the Drosophila melanogaster larva using a tracking microscope to study individual larval movements on defined temperature gradients. We discover that larval thermotaxis involves a larger repertoire of strategies than navigation in smaller organisms such as motile bacteria and Caenorhabditis elegans. Beyond regulating run length (i.e., biasing a random walk), the Drosophila melanogaster larva also regulates the size and direction of turns to achieve and maintain favorable orientations. Thus, the sharp turns in a larva's trajectory represent decision points for selecting new directions of forward movement. The larva uses the same strategies to move up temperature gradients during positive thermotaxis and to move down temperature gradients during negative thermotaxis. Disrupting positive thermotaxis by inactivating cold-sensitive neurons in the larva's terminal organ weakens all regulation of turning decisions, suggesting that information from one set of temperature sensors is used to regulate all aspects of turning decisions. The Drosophila melanogaster larva performs thermotaxis by biasing stochastic turning decisions on the basis of temporal variations in thermosensory input, thereby augmenting the likelihood of heading toward favorable temperatures at all times.