Cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) is a key secondary messenger used in signal transduction in various types of sensory neurons. The importance of cGMP in the ASE gustatory receptor neurons of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans was deduced by the observation that multiple receptor-type guanylyl cyclases (rGCs), encoded by the gcygenes, and two presently known cyclic nucleotide-gated ion channel subunits, encoded by the tax-2 and tax-4 genes, are essential for ASE-mediated gustatory behavior. We describe here specific mechanistic features of cGMP-mediated signal transduction in the ASE neurons. First, we assess the specificity of the sensory functions of individual rGC proteins. We have previously shown that multiple rGC proteins are expressed in a left/right asymmetric manner in the functionally lateralized ASE neurons and are required to sense distinct salt cues. Through domain swap experiments among three different rGC proteins, we show here that the specificity of individual rGC proteins lies in their extracellular domains and not in their intracellular, signal-transducing domains. Furthermore, we find that rGC proteins are also sufficient to confer salt sensory responses to other neurons. Both findings support the hypothesis that rGC proteins are salt receptor proteins. Second, we identify a novel, likely downstream effector of the rGC proteins in gustatory signal transduction, a previously uncharacterized cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) ion channel, encoded by the che-6 locus. che-6 mutants show defects in gustatory sensory transduction that are similar to defects observed in animals lacking thetax-2 and tax-4 CNG channels. In contrast, thermosensory signal transduction, which also requires tax-2 and tax-4, does not require che-6, but requires another CNG, cng-3. We propose that CHE-6 may form together with two other CNG subunits, TAX-2 and TAX-4, a gustatory neuron-specific heteromeric CNG channel complex.
Inactivation of selected neurons in vivo can define their contribution to specific developmental outcomes, circuit functions, and behaviors. Here, we show that the optogenetic tool KillerRed selec- tively, rapidly, and permanently inactivates different classes of neurons in C. elegans in response to a single light stimulus, through the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Ablation scales from individual neurons in single animals to multiple neurons in populations and can be applied to freely behaving animals. Using spatially restricted illumination, we demonstrate that localized KillerRed activation in either the cell body or the axon triggers neuronal degeneration and death of the targeted cell. Finally, targeting KillerRed to mitochondria results in organelle fragmentation without killing the cell, in contrast to the cell death observed when KillerRed is targeted to the plasma membrane. We expect this genetic tool to have wide-ranging applications in studies of circuit function and subcellular responses to ROS.
The avoidance of light by fly larvae is a classic paradigm for sensorimotor behavior. Here, we use behavioral assays and video microscopy to quantify the sensorimotor structure of phototaxis using the Drosophila larva. Larval locomotion is composed of sequences of runs (periods of forward movement) that are interrupted by abrupt turns, during which the larva pauses and sweeps its head back and forth, probing local light information to deter- mine the direction of the successive run. All phototactic responses are mediated by the same set of sensorimotor transformations that require temporal processing of sensory inputs. Through functional imaging and genetic inactivation of specific neurons down- stream of the sensory periphery, we have begun to map these sensorimotor circuits into the larval central brain. We find that specific sensorimotor pathways that govern distinct light-evoked responses begin to segregate at the first relay after the photosensory neurons.
Although the starvation response of the model multicellular organism Caenorhabditis elegans is a subject of much research, there is no convenient phenotypic readout of caloric restriction that can be applicable to large numbers of worms. This paper describes the distribution of mass densities of populations of C. elegans, from larval stages up to day one of adulthood, using isopycnic centrifugation, and finds that density is a convenient, if complex, phenotypic readout in C. elegans. The density of worms in synchronized populations of wildtype N2 C. elegans grown under standard solid-phase culture conditions was normally distributed, with distributions peaked sharply at a mean of 1.091 g/cm3 for L1, L2 and L3 larvae, 1.087 g/cm3 for L4 larvae, 1.081 g/cm3 for newly molted adults, and 1.074 g/cm3 at 24 hours of adulthood. The density of adult worms under starvation stress fell well outside this range, falling to a mean value of 1.054 g/cm3 after eight hours of starvation. This decrease in density correlated with the consumption of stored glycogen in the food-deprived worms. The density of the worms increased when deprived of food for longer durations, corresponding to a shift in the response of the worms: worms sacrifice their bodies by retaining larvae, which consume the adults from within. Density- based screens with the drug Ivermectin on worms cultured on single plates resulted in a clear bimodal (double-peaked) distribution of densities corresponding to drug exposed and non-exposed worms. Thus, measurements of changes in density could be used to conduct screens on the effects of drugs on several populations of worms cultured on single plates.
The ability of an animal to detect, discriminate, and respond to odors depends on the function of its olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs), which in turn depends ultimately on odorant receptors. To understand the diverse mechanisms used by an animal in olfactory coding and computation, it is essential to understand the functional diversity of its odor receptors. The larval olfactory system of Drosophila melanogaster contains 21 ORNs and a comparable number of odorant receptors whose properties have been examined in only a limited way. We systematically screened them with a panel of ∼500 odorants, yielding >10,000 receptor-odorant combinations. We identify for each of 19 receptors an odorant that excites it strongly. The responses elicited by each of these odorants are analyzed in detail. The odorants elicited little cross-activation of other receptors at the test concentration; thus, low concentrations of many of these odorants in nature may be signaled by a single ORN. The receptors differed dramatically in sensitivity to their cognate odorants. The responses showed diverse temporal dynamics, with some odorants eliciting supersustained responses. An intriguing question in the field concerns the roles of different ORNs and receptors in driving behavior. We found that the cognate odorants elicited behavioral responses that varied across a broad range. Some odorants elicited strong physiological responses but weak behavioral responses or weak physiological responses but strong behavioral responses.