Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Caenorhabditis elegans


The ability to acquire large-scale recordings of neuronal activity in awake and unrestrained animals is needed to provide new insights into how populations of neurons generate animal behavior. We present an instrument capable of recording intracellular calcium transients from the majority of neurons in the head of a freely behaving Caenorhabditis elegans with cellular resolution while simultaneously recording the animal’s position, posture, and locomotion. This instrument provides whole-brain imaging with cellular resolution in an unrestrained and behaving animal. We use spinning-disk confocal microscopy to capture 3D volumetric fluorescent images of neurons expressing the calcium indicator GCaMP6s at 6 head-volumes/s. A suite of three cameras monitor neuronal fluorescence and the animal’s position and orientation. Custom software tracks the 3D position of the animal’s head in real time and two feedback loops adjust a motorized stage and objective to keep the animal’s head within the field of view as the animal roams freely. We observe calcium transients from up to 77 neurons for over 4 min and correlate this activity with the animal’s behavior. We characterize noise in the system due to animal motion and show that, across worms, multiple neurons show significant correlations with modes of behavior corresponding to forward, backward, and turning locomotion.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Caenorhabditis, Rhabditidae, Caenorhabditis briggsae, Calcium in biology


Many organisms spanning from bacteria to mammals orient to the earth’s magnetic field. For a few animals, central neurons responsive to earth-strength magnetic fields have been identified; however, magnetosensory neurons have yet to be identified in any animal. We show that the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans orients to the earth’s magnetic field during vertical burrowing migrations. Well-fed worms migrated up, while starved worms migrated down. Populations isolated from around the world, migrated at angles to the magnetic vector that would optimize vertical translation in their native soil, with northern- and southern-hemisphere worms displaying opposite migratory preferences. Magnetic orientation and vertical migrations required the TAX-4 cyclic nucleotide-gated ion channel in the AFD sensory neuron pair. Calcium imaging showed that these neurons respond to magnetic fields even without synaptic input. C. elegans may have adapted magnetic orientation to simplify their vertical burrowing migration by reducing the orientation task from three dimensions to one.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Magnetic field, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Human migration


Behavioral output of neural networks depends on a delicate balance between excitatory and inhibitory synaptic connections. However, it is not known whether network formation and stability is constrained by the sign of synaptic connections between neurons within the network. Here we show that switching the sign of a synapse within a neural circuit can reverse the behavioral output. The inhibitory tyramine-gated chloride channel, LGC-55, induces head relaxation and inhibits forward locomotion during the Caenorhabditis elegans escape response. We switched the ion selectivity of an inhibitory LGC-55 anion channel to an excitatory LGC-55 cation channel. The engineered cation channel is properly trafficked in the native neural circuit and results in behavioral responses that are opposite to those produced by activation of the LGC-55 anion channel. Our findings indicate that switches in ion selectivity of ligand-gated ion channels (LGICs) do not affect network connectivity or stability and may provide an evolutionary and a synthetic mechanism to change behavior.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Caenorhabditis elegans, Action potential, Electrophysiology, Ion, Ion channels, Membrane potential


Cephalopoda are a class of Mollusca species found in all the world’s oceans. They are an important model organism in neurobiology. Unfortunately, the lack of neuronal molecular sequences, such as ESTs, transcriptomic or genomic information, has limited the development of molecular neurobiology research in this unique model organism.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Brain, Biology, Caenorhabditis elegans, Model organism, Cephalopod, Octopus


Elucidation of the biological role of linker histone (H1) and heterochromatin protein 1 (HP1) in mammals has been difficult owing to the existence of a least 11 distinct H1 and three HP1 subtypes in mice. Caenorhabditis elegans possesses two HP1 homologues (HPL-1 and HPL-2) and eight H1 variants. Remarkably, one of eight H1 variants, HIS-24, is important for C. elegans development. Therefore we decided to analyse in parallel the transcriptional profiles of HIS-24, HPL-1/-2 deficient animals, and their phenotype, since hpl-1, hpl-2, and his-24 deficient nematodes are viable. Global transcriptional analysis of the double and triple mutants revealed that HPL proteins and HIS-24 play gene-specific roles, rather than a general repressive function. We showed that HIS-24 acts synergistically with HPL to allow normal reproduction, somatic gonad development, and vulval cell fate decision. Furthermore, the hpl-2; his-24 double mutant animals displayed abnormal development of the male tail and ectopic expression of C. elegans HOM-C/Hox genes (egl-5 and mab-5), which are involved in the developmental patterning of male mating structures. We found that HPL-2 and the methylated form of HIS-24 specifically interact with the histone H3 K27 region in the trimethylated state, and HIS-24 associates with the egl-5 and mab-5 genes. Our results establish the interplay between HPL-1/-2 and HIS-24 proteins in the regulation of positional identity in C. elegans males.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Histone, RNA, Developmental biology, Caenorhabditis elegans, Histone H1


During embryonic development, a complex organism is formed from a single starting cell. These processes of growth and differentiation are driven by large transcriptional changes, which are following the expression and activity of transcription factors (TFs). This study sought to compare TF expression during embryonic development in a diverse group of metazoan animals: representatives of vertebrates (Danio rerio, Xenopus tropicalis), a chordate (Ciona intestinalis) and invertebrate phyla such as insects (Drosophila melanogaster, Anopheles gambiae) and nematodes (Caenorhabditis elegans) were sampled, The different species showed overall very similar TF expression patterns, with TF expression increasing during the initial stages of development. C2H2 zinc finger TFs were over-represented and Homeobox TFs were under-represented in the early stages in all species. We further clustered TFs for each species based on their quantitative temporal expression profiles. This showed very similar TF expression trends in development in vertebrate and insect species. However, analysis of the expression of orthologous pairs between more closely related species showed that expression of most individual TFs is not conserved, following the general model of duplication and diversification. The degree of similarity between TF expression between Xenopus tropicalis and Danio rerio followed the hourglass model, with the greatest similarity occuring during the early tailbud stage in Xenopus tropicalis and the late segmentation stage in Danio rerio. However, for Drosophila melanogaster and Anopheles gambiae there were two periods of high TF transcriptome similarity, one during the Arthropod phylotypic stage at 8-10 hours into Drosophila development and the other later at 16-18 hours into Drosophila development.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Insect, Developmental biology, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Model organism, Transcription factor


Oxidative stress has long been associated with aging and has recently been linked to psychiatric disorders, including psychosis and depression. We identified multiple antipsychotics and antidepressants that extend Caenorhabditis elegans lifespan and protect the animal from oxidative stress. Here, we report that atypical antidepressants activate a neuronal mechanism that regulates the response to oxidative stress throughout the animal. While the activation of the oxidative stress response by atypical antidepressants depends on synaptic transmission, the activation by reactive oxygen species does not. Lifespan extension by atypical antidepressants depends on the neuronal oxidative stress response activation mechanism. Neuronal regulation of the oxidative stress response is likely to have evolved as a survival mechanism to protect the organism from oxidative stress, upon detection of adverse or dangerous conditions by the nervous system.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Oxidative stress, Oxidative phosphorylation, Reactive oxygen species, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Hydrogen peroxide


Protein kinases form one of the largest protein families and are found in all species, from viruses to humans. They catalyze the reversible phosphorylation of proteins, often modifying their activity and localization. They are implicated in virtually all cellular processes and are one of the most intensively studied protein families. In recent years, they have become key therapeutic targets in drug development as natural mutations affecting kinase genes are the cause of many diseases. The vast amount of data contained in the primary literature and across a variety of biological data collections highlights the need for a repository where this information is stored in a concise and easily accessible manner. The UniProt Knowledgebase meets this need by providing the scientific community with a comprehensive, high-quality and freely accessible resource of protein sequence and functional information. Here, we describe the expert curation process for kinases, focusing on the Caenorhabditis elegans kinome. The C. elegans kinome is composed of 438 kinases and almost half of them have been functionally characterized, highlighting that C. elegans is a valuable and versatile model organism to understand the role of kinases in biological processes.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Signal transduction, Biology, Genome, RNA, Caenorhabditis elegans, Model organism


Cuticle collagens form a major part of the nematode cuticle and are responsible for maintaining the overall shape of the animal and its protection from the external environment. Although substantial research on cuticle collagen genes has been carried out in Caenorhabditis elegans, their isolation and characterization in plant parasitic nematodes have been limited to a few genes only. In this study, a cuticle collagen gene, Mi-col-5, was isolated from root-knot nematode, Meloidogyne incognita. A partial segment of 402 bp was first cloned and analyzed on Gbrowse followed by subsequent cloning of the 1047 bp long full cDNA specifying the open reading frame. The deduced amino acid sequence showed 92% sequence identity with that of Mj-col-5. However, a transmembrane helix was predicted in Mi-col-5 which was not present in Mj-col-5. The conserved pattern of cysteine residues in Mi-col-5 suggested that it belonged to group 2 of nematode cuticle collagens but with a longer carboxy terminal region as was the case with Mj-col-5. Domain prediction revealed the presence of a nematode cuticle collagen N terminal domain and a pfam collagen domain along with collagen triple helix repeats. A phylogenetic tree based on the amino acid sequences showed evolutionary relationship of Mi-col-5 with cuticle collagens genes of other nematodes. 3D models for Mi-col-5 were predicted with the best confidence score of -2.78. Expression of Mi-col-5 transcript was found to be maximum in egg masses followed by adult females and J2s suggesting its role in the early stages of the development of the nematode during its life cycle.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Amino acid, Collagen, Caenorhabditis elegans, Nematode, Nematodes, Root-knot nematode


Serotonin, a central neuromodulator with ancient ties to feeding and metabolism, is a major driver of body fat loss. However, mechanisms by which central serotonin action leads to fat loss remain unknown. Here, we report that the FLP-7 neuropeptide and its cognate receptor, NPR-22, function as the ligand-receptor pair that defines the neuroendocrine axis of serotonergic body fat loss in Caenorhabditis elegans. FLP-7 is secreted as a neuroendocrine peptide in proportion to fluctuations in neural serotonin circuit functions, and its release is regulated from secretory neurons via the nutrient sensor AMPK. FLP-7 acts via the NPR-22/Tachykinin2 receptor in the intestine and drives fat loss via the adipocyte triglyceride lipase ATGL-1. Importantly, this ligand-receptor pair does not alter other serotonin-dependent behaviours including food intake. For global modulators such as serotonin, the use of distinct neuroendocrine peptides for each output may be one means to achieve phenotypic selectivity.

Concepts: Protein, Neuron, Nutrition, Caenorhabditis elegans, Triglyceride, Fat, Lipid, Lipase