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PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e32360. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032360. Epub 2012 Mar 20.

Temperature- and touch-sensitive neurons couple CNG and TRPV channel activities to control heat avoidance in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Laboratory for Bioinformatics and Molecular Genetics, Faculty of Biology, Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.



Any organism depends on its ability to sense temperature and avoid noxious heat. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans responds to noxious temperatures exceeding ∼35°C and also senses changes in its environmental temperature in the range between 15 and 25°C. The neural circuits and molecular mechanisms involved in thermotaxis have been successfully studied, whereas details of the thermal avoidance behavior remain elusive. In this work, we investigate neurological and molecular aspects of thermonociception using genetic, cell biological and physiological approaches.


We show here that the thermosensory neurons AFD, in addition to sensing temperature within the range within which the animals can thrive, also contribute to the sensation of noxious temperatures resulting in a reflex-like escape reaction. Distinct sets of interneurons are involved in transmitting thermonociception and thermotaxis, respectively. Loss of AFD is partially compensated by the activity of a pair of multidendritic, polymodal neurons, FLP, whereas laser ablation of both types of neurons abrogated the heat response in the head of the animals almost completely. A third pair of heat sensory neurons, PHC, is situated in the tail. We find that the thermal avoidance response requires the cell autonomous function of cGMP dependent Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated (CNG) channels in AFD, and the heat- and capsaicin-sensitive Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid (TRPV) channels in the FLP and PHC sensory neurons.


Our results identify distinct thermal responses mediated by a single neuron, but also show that parallel nociceptor circuits and molecules may be used as back-up strategies to guarantee fast and efficient responses to potentially detrimental stimuli.

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