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eNeuro. 2018 Dec 10;5(6). pii: ENEURO.0121-18.2018. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0121-18.2018. eCollection 2018 Nov-Dec.

A Gate-and-Switch Model for Head Orientation Behaviors in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Department of Biology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1B1, Canada.


The nervous system seamlessly integrates perception and action. This ability is essential for stable representation of and appropriate responses to the external environment. How the sensorimotor integration underlying this ability occurs at the level of individual neurons is of keen interest. In Caenorhabditis elegans, RIA interneurons receive input from sensory pathways and have reciprocal connections with head motor neurons. RIA simultaneously encodes both head orientation and sensory stimuli, which may allow it to integrate these two signals to detect the spatial distribution of stimuli across head sweeps and generate directional head responses. Here, we show that blocking synaptic release from RIA disrupts head orientation behaviors in response to unilaterally presented stimuli. We found that sensory encoding in RIA is gated according to head orientation. This dependence on head orientation is independent of motor encoding in RIA, suggesting a second, posture-dependent pathway upstream of RIA. This gating mechanism may allow RIA to selectively attend to stimuli that are asymmetric across head sweeps. Attractive odor removal during head bends triggers rapid head withdrawal in the opposite direction. Unlike sensory encoding, this directional response is dependent on motor inputs to and synaptic output from RIA. Together, these results suggest that RIA is part of a sensorimotor pathway that is dynamically regulated according to head orientation at two levels: the first is a gate that filters sensory representations in RIA, and the second is a switch that routes RIA synaptic output to dorsal or ventral head motor neurons.


C. elegans; behavior; calcium signaling; sensorimotor integration

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