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J Neurophysiol. 2007 Mar;97(3):1903-10. Epub 2006 Dec 6.

Short-term adaptation and temporal processing in the cryophilic response of Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Department of Physics, Harvard University, 17 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


When navigating spatial thermal gradients, the nematode C. elegans migrates toward colder temperatures until it reaches its previous cultivation temperature, exhibiting cryophilic movement. The strategy for effecting cryophilic movement is the biased random walk: C. elegans extends (shortens) periods of forward movement that are directed down (up) spatial thermal gradients by modulating the probability of reorientation. Here, we analyze the temporal sensory processor that enables cryophilic movement by quantifying the movements of individual worms subjected to defined temperature waveforms. We show that step increases in temperature as small as 0.05 degrees C lead to transient increases in the probability of reorientation followed by gradual adaptation to the baseline level; temperature downsteps leads to similar but inverted responses. Short-term adaptation is a general property of sensory systems, allowing organisms to maintain sensitivity to sensory variations over broad operating ranges. During cryophilic movement C. elegans also uses the temporal dynamics of its adaptive response to compute the time derivative of gradual temperature variations with exquisite sensitivity. On the basis of the time derivative, the worm determines how it is oriented in spatial thermal gradients during each period of forward movement. We show that the operating range of the cryophilic response extends to lower temperatures in ttx-3 mutants, which affects the development of the AIY interneurons. We show that the temporal sensory processor for the cryophilic response is affected by mutation in the EAT-4 glutamate vesicular transporter. Regulating the operating range of the cryophilic response and executing the cryophilic response may have separate neural mechanisms.

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