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Neuron. 2011 Apr 28;70(2):299-309. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.02.046.

Lateral facilitation between primary mechanosensory neurons controls nose touch perception in C. elegans.

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  • 1Cell Biology Division, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QH, UK.


The nematode C. elegans senses head and nose touch using multiple classes of mechanoreceptor neurons that are electrically coupled through a network of gap junctions. Using in vivo neuroimaging, we have found that multidendritic nociceptors in the head respond to harsh touch throughout their receptive field but respond to gentle touch only at the tip of the nose. Whereas the harsh touch response depends solely on cell-autonomous mechanosensory channels, gentle nose touch responses require facilitation by additional nose touch mechanoreceptors, which couple electrically to the nociceptors in a hub-and-spoke gap junction network. Conversely, nociceptor activity indirectly facilitates activation of the nose touch neurons, demonstrating that information flow across the network is bidirectional. Thus, a simple gap-junction circuit acts as a coincidence detector that allows primary sensory neurons to integrate information from neighboring mechanoreceptors and generate somatosensory perception.

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