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PLoS One. 2013;8(4):e60597. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0060597. Epub 2013 Apr 5.

The C. elegans male exercises directional control during mating through cholinergic regulation of sex-shared command interneurons.

Author information

1
Department of Biology, Texas A & M University, College Station, Texas, USA.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Mating behaviors in simple invertebrate model organisms represent tractable paradigms for understanding the neural bases of sex-specific behaviors, decision-making and sensorimotor integration. However, there are few examples where such neural circuits have been defined at high resolution or interrogated.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS:

Here we exploit the simplicity of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to define the neural circuits underlying the male's decision to initiate mating in response to contact with a mate. Mate contact is sensed by male-specific sensilla of the tail, the rays, which subsequently induce and guide a contact-based search of the hermaphrodite's surface for the vulva (the vulva search). Atypically, search locomotion has a backward directional bias so its implementation requires overcoming an intrinsic bias for forward movement, set by activity of the sex-shared locomotory system. Using optogenetics, cell-specific ablation- and mutant behavioral analyses, we show that the male makes this shift by manipulating the activity of command cells within this sex-shared locomotory system. The rays control the command interneurons through the male-specific, decision-making interneuron PVY and its auxiliary cell PVX. Unlike many sex-shared pathways, PVY/PVX regulate the command cells via cholinergic, rather than glutamatergic transmission, a feature that likely contributes to response specificity and coordinates directional movement with other cholinergic-dependent motor behaviors of the mating sequence. PVY/PVX preferentially activate the backward, and not forward, command cells because of a bias in synaptic inputs and the distribution of key cholinergic receptors (encoded by the genes acr-18, acr-16 and unc-29) in favor of the backward command cells.

CONCLUSION/SIGNIFICANCE:

Our interrogation of male neural circuits reveals that a sex-specific response to the opposite sex is conferred by a male-specific pathway that renders subordinate, sex-shared motor programs responsive to mate cues. Circuit modifications of these types may make prominent contributions to natural variations in behavior that ultimately bring about speciation.

PMID:
23577128
PMCID:
PMC3618225
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0060597
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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