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Learn Mem. 2008 Oct 30;15(11):829-36. doi: 10.1101/lm.994408. Print 2008 Nov.

Gustatory plasticity in C. elegans involves integration of negative cues and NaCl taste mediated by serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology and Genetics, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


While naïve Caenorhabditis elegans individuals are attracted to 0.1-200 mM NaCl, they become strongly repelled by these NaCl concentrations after prolonged exposure to 100 mM NaCl. We call this behavior gustatory plasticity. Here, we show that C. elegans displays avoidance of low NaCl concentrations only when pre-exposure to NaCl is combined with a negative stimulus, e.g., a repellent, or in the absence of food. By testing serotonin and/or dopamine signaling mutants and rescue by exogenously supplying these neurotransmitters, we found that serotonin and dopamine play a role during the plasticity response, while serotonin is also required during development. In addition, we also show that glutamate plays an important role in the response to NaCl, both in chemoattraction to NaCl and in gustatory plasticity. Thus, C. elegans can associate NaCl with negative stimuli using dopaminergic, serotonergic, and glutamatergic neurotransmission. Finally, we show that prolonged starvation enhances gustatory plasticity and can induce avoidance of NaCl in most gustatory plasticity mutants tested. Only mutation of the glutamate-gated Cl(-) channel gene avr-15 affected starvation-enhanced gustatory plasticity. These results suggest that starvation induces avoidance of NaCl largely independent of the normal gustatory plasticity mechanism.

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