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

Concept: Caenorhabditis


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


The self-assembly of α-synuclein is closely associated with Parkinson’s disease and related syndromes. We show that squalamine, a natural product with known anticancer and antiviral activity, dramatically affects α-synuclein aggregation in vitro and in vivo. We elucidate the mechanism of action of squalamine by investigating its interaction with lipid vesicles, which are known to stimulate nucleation, and find that this compound displaces α-synuclein from the surfaces of such vesicles, thereby blocking the first steps in its aggregation process. We also show that squalamine almost completely suppresses the toxicity of α-synuclein oligomers in human neuroblastoma cells by inhibiting their interactions with lipid membranes. We further examine the effects of squalamine in a Caenorhabditis elegans strain overexpressing α-synuclein, observing a dramatic reduction of α-synuclein aggregation and an almost complete elimination of muscle paralysis. These findings suggest that squalamine could be a means of therapeutic intervention in Parkinson’s disease and related conditions.

Concepts: Cancer, Caenorhabditis elegans, Caenorhabditis, Rhabditidae, In vivo, In vitro, Paralysis, Caenorhabditis briggsae


The microbiological safety of fresh produce is monitored almost exclusively by culture-based detection methods. However, bacterial food-borne pathogens are known to enter a viable-but-nonculturable (VBNC) state in response to environmental stresses such as chlorine, which is commonly used for fresh produce decontamination. Here, complete VBNC induction of green fluorescent protein-tagged Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella enterica serovar Thompson was achieved by exposure to 12 and 3 ppm chlorine, respectively. The pathogens were subjected to chlorine washing following incubation on spinach leaves. Culture data revealed that total viable L. monocytogenes and Salmonella Thompson populations became VBNC by 50 and 100 ppm chlorine, respectively, while enumeration by direct viable counting found that chlorine caused a <1-log reduction in viability. The pathogenicity of chlorine-induced VBNC L. monocytogenes and Salmonella Thompson was assessed by using Caenorhabditis elegans Ingestion of VBNC pathogens by C. elegans resulted in a significant life span reduction (P = 0.0064 and P < 0.0001), and no significant difference between the life span reductions caused by the VBNC and culturable L. monocytogenes treatments was observed. L. monocytogenes was visualized beyond the nematode intestinal lumen, indicating resuscitation and cell invasion. These data emphasize the risk that VBNC food-borne pathogens could pose to public health should they continue to go undetected.IMPORTANCE Many bacteria are known to enter a viable-but-nonculturable (VBNC) state in response to environmental stresses. VBNC cells cannot be detected by standard laboratory culture techniques, presenting a problem for the food industry, which uses these techniques to detect pathogen contaminants. This study found that chlorine, a sanitizer commonly used for fresh produce, induces a VBNC state in the food-borne pathogens Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella enterica It was also found that chlorine is ineffective at killing total populations of the pathogens. A life span reduction was observed in Caenorhabditis elegans that ingested these VBNC pathogens, with VBNC L. monocytogenes as infectious as its culturable counterpart. These data show that VBNC food-borne pathogens can both be generated and avoid detection by industrial practices while potentially retaining the ability to cause disease.

Concepts: Bacteria, Microbiology, Caenorhabditis elegans, Caenorhabditis, Salmonella enterica, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack


Early detection and treatment are of vital importance to the successful eradication of various cancers, and development of economical and non-invasive novel cancer screening systems is critical. Previous reports using canine scent detection demonstrated the existence of cancer-specific odours. However, it is difficult to introduce canine scent recognition into clinical practice because of the need to maintain accuracy. In this study, we developed a Nematode Scent Detection Test (NSDT) using Caenorhabditis elegans to provide a novel highly accurate cancer detection system that is economical, painless, rapid and convenient. We demonstrated wild-type C. elegans displayed attractive chemotaxis towards human cancer cell secretions, cancer tissues and urine from cancer patients but avoided control urine; in parallel, the response of the olfactory neurons of C. elegans to the urine from cancer patients was significantly stronger than to control urine. In contrast, G protein α mutants and olfactory neurons-ablated animals were not attracted to cancer patient urine, suggesting that C. elegans senses odours in urine. We tested 242 samples to measure the performance of the NSDT, and found the sensitivity was 95.8%; this is markedly higher than that of other existing tumour markers. Furthermore, the specificity was 95.0%. Importantly, this test was able to diagnose various cancer types tested at the early stage (stage 0 or 1). To conclude, C. elegans scent-based analyses might provide a new strategy to detect and study disease-associated scents.

Concepts: Cancer, Oncology, Type I and type II errors, Caenorhabditis elegans, Caenorhabditis, Nematode, Olfaction, Odor


Small, genetically tractable species such as larval zebrafish, Drosophila, or Caenorhabditis elegans have become key model organisms in modern neuroscience. In addition to their low maintenance costs and easy sharing of strains across labs, one key appeal is the possibility to monitor single or groups of animals in a behavioural arena while controlling the activity of select neurons using optogenetic or thermogenetic tools. However, the purchase of a commercial solution for these types of experiments, including an appropriate camera system as well as a controlled behavioural arena, can be costly. Here, we present a low-cost and modular open-source alternative called ‘FlyPi’. Our design is based on a 3D-printed mainframe, a Raspberry Pi computer, and high-definition camera system as well as Arduino-based optical and thermal control circuits. Depending on the configuration, FlyPi can be assembled for well under €100 and features optional modules for light-emitting diode (LED)-based fluorescence microscopy and optogenetic stimulation as well as a Peltier-based temperature stimulator for thermogenetics. The complete version with all modules costs approximately €200 or substantially less if the user is prepared to ‘shop around’. All functions of FlyPi can be controlled through a custom-written graphical user interface. To demonstrate FlyPi’s capabilities, we present its use in a series of state-of-the-art neurogenetics experiments. In addition, we demonstrate FlyPi’s utility as a medical diagnostic tool as well as a teaching aid at Neurogenetics courses held at several African universities. Taken together, the low cost and modular nature as well as fully open design of FlyPi make it a highly versatile tool in a range of applications, including the classroom, diagnostic centres, and research labs.

Concepts: Biology, Caenorhabditis elegans, Caenorhabditis, Model organism, Control, Open source, Graphical user interface, Model organisms


Animal behavior is shaped through interplay among genes, the environment, and previous experience. As in mammals, satiety signals induce quiescence in Caenorhabditis elegans Here we report that the C. elegans transcription factor ETS-5, an ortholog of mammalian FEV/Pet1, controls satiety-induced quiescence. Nutritional status has a major influence on C. elegans behavior. When foraging, food availability controls behavioral state switching between active (roaming) and sedentary (dwelling) states; however, when provided with high-quality food, C. elegans become sated and enter quiescence. We show that ETS-5 acts to promote roaming and inhibit quiescence by setting the internal “satiety quotient” through fat regulation. Acting from the ASG and BAG sensory neurons, we show that ETS-5 functions in a complex network with serotonergic and neuropeptide signaling pathways to control food-regulated behavioral state switching. Taken together, our results identify a neuronal mechanism for controlling intestinal fat stores and organismal behavioral states in C. elegans, and establish a paradigm for the elucidation of obesity-relevant mechanisms.

Concepts: Nervous system, DNA, Neuron, RNA, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Caenorhabditis, Rhabditidae


The aggregation of the 42-residue form of the amyloid-β peptide (Aβ42) is a pivotal event in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The use of chemical kinetics has recently enabled highly accurate quantifications of the effects of small molecules on specific microscopic steps in Aβ42 aggregation. Here, we exploit this approach to develop a rational drug discovery strategy against Aβ42 aggregation that uses as a read-out the changes in the nucleation and elongation rate constants caused by candidate small molecules. We thus identify a pool of compounds that target specific microscopic steps in Aβ42 aggregation. We then test further these small molecules in human cerebrospinal fluid and in a Caenorhabditis elegans model of AD. Our results show that this strategy represents a powerful approach to identify systematically small molecule lead compounds, thus offering an appealing opportunity to reduce the attrition problem in drug discovery.

Concepts: Neuron, Molecule, Caenorhabditis elegans, Caenorhabditis, Model organism, Peptide, Enzyme inhibitor, Chemical compound


Caloric restriction (CR), a reduction in calorie intake without malnutrition, retards aging in several animal models from worms to mammals. Developing CR mimetics, compounds that reproduce the longevity benefits of CR without its side effects, is of widespread interest. Here, we employed the Connectivity Map to identify drugs with overlapping gene expression profiles with CR. Eleven statistically significant compounds were predicted as CR mimetics using this bioinformatics approach. We then tested rapamycin, allantoin, trichostatin A, LY-294002 and geldanamycin in Caenorhabditis elegans. An increase in lifespan and healthspan was observed for all drugs except geldanamycin when fed to wild-type worms, but no lifespan effects were observed in eat-2 mutant worms, a genetic model of CR, suggesting that life-extending effects may be acting via CR-related mechanisms. We also treated daf-16 worms with rapamycin, allantoin or trichostatin A, and a lifespan extension was observed, suggesting that these drugs act via DAF-16-independent mechanisms, as would be expected from CR mimetics. Supporting this idea, an analysis of predictive targets of the drugs extending lifespan indicates various genes within CR and longevity networks. We also assessed the transcriptional profile of worms treated with either rapamycin or allantoin and found that both drugs use several specific pathways that do not overlap, indicating different modes of action for each compound. The current work validates the capabilities of this bioinformatic drug repositioning method in the context of longevity and reveals new putative CR mimetics that warrant further studies.

Concepts: DNA, Pharmacology, Gene, Gene expression, Caenorhabditis elegans, Caenorhabditis, Model organism, Gerontology


Longevity mechanisms increase lifespan by counteracting the effects of aging. However, whether longevity mechanisms counteract the effects of aging continually throughout life, or whether they act during specific periods of life, preventing changes that precede mortality is unclear. Here, we uncover transcriptional drift, a phenomenon that describes how aging causes genes within functional groups to change expression in opposing directions. These changes cause a transcriptome-wide loss in mRNA stoichiometry and loss of co-expression patterns in aging animals, as compared to young adults. Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a model, we show that extending lifespan by inhibiting serotonergic signals by the antidepressant mianserin attenuates transcriptional drift, allowing the preservation of a younger transcriptome into an older age. Our data are consistent with a model in which inhibition of serotonergic signals slows age-dependent physiological decline and the associated rise in mortality levels exclusively in young adults, thereby postponing the onset of major mortality.

Concepts: Gene expression, RNA, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Caenorhabditis, Model organism, Rhabditidae, Caenorhabditis briggsae


Limiting the debilitating consequences of ageing is a major medical challenge of our time. Robust pharmacological interventions that promote healthy ageing across diverse genetic backgrounds may engage conserved longevity pathways. Here we report results from the Caenorhabditis Intervention Testing Program in assessing longevity variation across 22 Caenorhabditis strains spanning 3 species, using multiple replicates collected across three independent laboratories. Reproducibility between test sites is high, whereas individual trial reproducibility is relatively low. Of ten pro-longevity chemicals tested, six significantly extend lifespan in at least one strain. Three reported dietary restriction mimetics are mainly effective across C. elegans strains, indicating species and strain-specific responses. In contrast, the amyloid dye ThioflavinT is both potent and robust across the strains. Our results highlight promising pharmacological leads and demonstrate the importance of assessing lifespans of discrete cohorts across repeat studies to capture biological variation in the search for reproducible ageing interventions.

Concepts: DNA, Evolution, Biology, Caenorhabditis elegans, Caenorhabditis, Chemistry, Chemical substance, Chemical compound