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PLoS Comput Biol. 2016 Dec 27;12(12):e1005262. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005262. eCollection 2016 Dec.

Stereotypical Escape Behavior in Caenorhabditis elegans Allows Quantification of Effective Heat Stimulus Level.

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Department of Physics, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America.
Department of Physics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Donnelly Centre, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Biology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America.


A goal of many sensorimotor studies is to quantify the stimulus-behavioral response relation for specific organisms and specific sensory stimuli. This is especially important to do in the context of painful stimuli since most animals in these studies cannot easily communicate to us their perceived levels of such noxious stimuli. Thus progress on studies of nociception and pain-like responses in animal models depends crucially on our ability to quantitatively and objectively infer the sensed levels of these stimuli from animal behaviors. Here we develop a quantitative model to infer the perceived level of heat stimulus from the stereotyped escape response of individual nematodes Caenorhabditis elegans stimulated by an IR laser. The model provides a method for quantification of analgesic-like effects of chemical stimuli or genetic mutations in C. elegans. We test ibuprofen-treated worms and a TRPV (transient receptor potential) mutant, and we show that the perception of heat stimuli for the ibuprofen treated worms is lower than the wild-type. At the same time, our model shows that the mutant changes the worm's behavior beyond affecting the thermal sensory system. Finally, we determine the stimulus level that best distinguishes the analgesic-like effects and the minimum number of worms that allow for a statistically significant identification of these effects.

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