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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e38649. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038649. Epub 2012 Jun 13.

Dopamine signaling is essential for precise rates of locomotion by C. elegans.

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Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America.


Dopamine is an important neuromodulator in both vertebrates and invertebrates. We have found that reduced dopamine signaling can cause a distinct abnormality in the behavior of the nematode C. elegans, which has only eight dopaminergic neurons. Using an automated particle-tracking system for the analysis of C. elegans locomotion, we observed that individual wild-type animals made small adjustments to their speed to maintain constant rates of locomotion. By contrast, individual mutant animals defective in the synthesis of dopamine made larger adjustments to their speeds, resulting in large fluctuations in their rates of locomotion. Mutants defective in dopamine signaling also frequently exhibited both abnormally high and abnormally low average speeds. The ability to make small adjustments to speed was restored to these mutants by treatment with dopamine. These behaviors depended on the D2-like dopamine receptor DOP-3 and the G-protein subunit GOA-1. We suggest that C. elegans and other animals, including humans, might share mechanisms by which dopamine restricts motor activity levels and coordinates movement.

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