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

Concept: Rhabditidae


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


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


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


Dietary restriction (DR) is a dietary regimen that extends lifespan in many organisms. One mechanism contributing to the conserved effect of DR on longevity is the cellular recycling process autophagy, which is induced in response to nutrient scarcity and increases sequestration of cytosolic material into double-membrane autophagosomes for degradation in the lysosome. Although autophagy plays a direct role in DR-mediated lifespan extension in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the contribution of autophagy in individual tissues remains unclear. In this study, we show a critical role for autophagy in the intestine, a major metabolic tissue, to ensure lifespan extension of dietary-restricted eat-2 mutants. The intestine of eat-2 mutants has an enlarged lysosomal compartment and flux assays indicate increased turnover of autophagosomes, consistent with an induction of autophagy in this tissue. This increase in intestinal autophagy may underlie the improved intestinal integrity we observe in eat-2 mutants, since whole-body and intestinal-specific inhibition of autophagy in eat-2 mutants greatly impairs the intestinal barrier function. Interestingly, intestinal-specific inhibition of autophagy in eat-2 mutants leads to a decrease in motility with age, alluding to a potential cell non-autonomous role for autophagy in the intestine. Collectively, these results highlight important functions for autophagy in the intestine of dietary-restricted C. elegans.

Concepts: Cell, Organelle, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Caenorhabditis, Nematode, Model organism, Rhabditidae


How do very small animals with limited long-distance dispersal abilities move between locations, especially if they prefer ephemeral micro-habitats that are only available for short periods of time? The free-living model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and several congeneric taxa appear to be common in such short-lived environments, for example decomposing fruits or other rotting plant material. Dispersal is usually assumed to depend on animal vectors, yet all current data is based on only a limited number of studies. In our project we performed three comprehensive field surveys on possible invertebrate vectors in North German locations containing populations of C. elegans and two related species, especially C. remanei, and combined these screens with an experimental analysis of persistence in one of the vector taxa.

Concepts: Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Caenorhabditis, Nematode, Model organism, Rhabditidae, Sydney Brenner, Caenorhabditis briggsae


In species ranging from humans to Caenorhabditis elegans, dietary restriction (DR) grants numerous benefits, including enhanced learning. The precise mechanisms by which DR engenders benefits on processes related to learning remain poorly understood. As a result, it is unclear whether the learning benefits of DR are due to myriad improvements in mechanisms that collectively confer improved cellular health and extension of organismal lifespan or due to specific neural mechanisms. Using an associative learning paradigm in C. elegans, we investigated the effects of DR as well as manipulations of insulin, mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR), AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), and autophagy pathways-processes implicated in longevity-on learning. Despite their effects on a vast number of molecular effectors, we found that the beneficial effects on learning elicited by each of these manipulations are fully dependent on depletion of kynurenic acid (KYNA), a neuroinhibitory metabolite. KYNA depletion then leads, in an N-methyl D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR)-dependent manner, to activation of a specific pair of interneurons with a critical role in learning. Thus, fluctuations in KYNA levels emerge as a previously unidentified molecular mechanism linking longevity and metabolic pathways to neural mechanisms of learning. Importantly, KYNA levels did not alter lifespan in any of the conditions tested. As such, the beneficial effects of DR on learning can be attributed to changes in a nutritionally sensitive metabolite with neuromodulatory activity rather than indirect or secondary consequences of improved health and extended longevity.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Signal transduction, Metabolism, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Caenorhabditis, Rhabditidae


High-speed, large-scale three-dimensional (3D) imaging of neuronal activity poses a major challenge in neuroscience. Here we demonstrate simultaneous functional imaging of neuronal activity at single-neuron resolution in an entire Caenorhabditis elegans and in larval zebrafish brain. Our technique captures the dynamics of spiking neurons in volumes of ∼700 μm × 700 μm × 200 μm at 20 Hz. Its simplicity makes it an attractive tool for high-speed volumetric calcium imaging.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Caenorhabditis elegans, Caenorhabditis, Model organism, Rhabditidae, Action potential, Retina


Stress-response pathways have evolved to maintain cellular homeostasis and to ensure the survival of organisms under changing environmental conditions. Whereas severe stress is detrimental, mild stress can be beneficial for health and survival, known as hormesis. Although the universally conserved heat-shock response regulated by transcription factor HSF-1 has been implicated as an effector mechanism, the role and possible interplay with other cellular processes, such as autophagy, remains poorly understood. Here we show that autophagy is induced in multiple tissues of Caenorhabditis elegans following hormetic heat stress or HSF-1 overexpression. Autophagy-related genes are required for the thermoresistance and longevity of animals exposed to hormetic heat shock or HSF-1 overexpression. Hormetic heat shock also reduces the progressive accumulation of PolyQ aggregates in an autophagy-dependent manner. These findings demonstrate that autophagy contributes to stress resistance and hormesis, and reveal a requirement for autophagy in HSF-1-regulated functions in the heat-shock response, proteostasis and ageing.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Genome, RNA, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Caenorhabditis, Rhabditidae


Host-associated bacterial communities vary extensively between individuals, but it can be very difficult to determine the sources of this heterogeneity. Here, we demonstrate that stochastic bacterial community assembly in the Caenorhabditis elegans intestine is sufficient to produce strong interworm heterogeneity in community composition. When worms are fed with two neutrally competing, fluorescently labeled bacterial strains, we observe stochastically driven bimodality in community composition, in which approximately half of the worms are dominated by each bacterial strain. A simple model incorporating stochastic colonization suggests that heterogeneity between worms is driven by the low rate at which bacteria successfully establish new intestinal colonies. We can increase this rate experimentally by feeding worms at high bacterial density; in these conditions, the bimodality disappears. These results demonstrate that demographic noise is a potentially important driver of diversity in bacterial community formation and suggest a role for C. elegans as a model system for ecology of host-associated communities.

Concepts: Bacteria, Caenorhabditis elegans, Caenorhabditis, Model organism, Rhabditidae