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Nat Methods. 2011 Jun 12;8(7):599-605. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.1630.

High-content behavioral analysis of Caenorhabditis elegans in precise spatiotemporal chemical environments.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior, The Rockefeller University, New York, New York, USA.


To quantitatively understand chemosensory behaviors, it is desirable to present many animals with repeatable, well-defined chemical stimuli. To that end, we describe a microfluidic system to analyze Caenorhabditis elegans behavior in defined temporal and spatial stimulus patterns. A 2 cm × 2 cm structured arena allowed C. elegans to perform crawling locomotion in a controlled liquid environment. We characterized behavioral responses to attractive odors with three stimulus patterns: temporal pulses, spatial stripes and a linear concentration gradient, all delivered in the fluid phase to eliminate variability associated with air-fluid transitions. Different stimulus configurations preferentially revealed turning dynamics in a biased random walk, directed orientation into an odor stripe and speed regulation by odor. We identified both expected and unexpected responses in wild-type worms and sensory mutants by quantifying dozens of behavioral parameters. The devices are inexpensive, easy to fabricate, reusable and suitable for delivering any liquid-borne stimulus.

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