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Elife. 2015 May 12;4:e06259. doi: 10.7554/eLife.06259.

A gene-expression-based neural code for food abundance that modulates lifespan.

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MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, King's College London, London, United Kingdom.
Interdisciplinary Bioengineering Graduate Program, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, United States.


How the nervous system internally represents environmental food availability is poorly understood. Here, we show that quantitative information about food abundance is encoded by combinatorial neuron-specific gene-expression of conserved TGFβ and serotonin pathway components in Caenorhabditis elegans. Crosstalk and auto-regulation between these pathways alters the shape, dynamic range, and population variance of the gene-expression responses of daf-7 (TGFβ) and tph-1 (tryptophan hydroxylase) to food availability. These intricate regulatory features provide distinct mechanisms for TGFβ and serotonin signaling to tune the accuracy of this multi-neuron code: daf-7 primarily regulates gene-expression variability, while tph-1 primarily regulates the dynamic range of gene-expression responses. This code is functional because daf-7 and tph-1 mutations bidirectionally attenuate food level-dependent changes in lifespan. Our results reveal a neural code for food abundance and demonstrate that gene expression serves as an additional layer of information processing in the nervous system to control long-term physiology.


C. elegans; dietary restriction; expression variability; gene regulation; neural circuit; neural code; neuroscience

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