Navigation Links
Glowing worms illuminate the roots of behavior

Worcester, Mass. A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and The Rockefeller University in New York has developed a novel system to image brain activity in multiple awake and unconstrained worms. The technology, which makes it possible to study the genetics and neural circuitry associated with animal behavior, can also be used as a high-throughput screening tool for drug development targeting autism, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and other brain disorders.

The team details their technology and early results in the paper "High-throughput imaging of neuronal activity in Caenorhabditis elegans," published on-line in advance of print by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .

"One of our major objectives is to understand the neural signals that direct behaviorhow sensory information is processed through a network of neurons leading to specific decisions and responses," said Dirk Albrecht, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at WPI and senior author of the paper. Albrecht led the research team both at WPI and at Rockefeller, where he served previously as a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Cori Bargmann, PhD, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and a co-author of the new paper.

To study neuronal activity, Albrecht's lab uses the tiny worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), a nematode found in many environments around the world. A typical adult C. elegans is just 1 millimeter long and has 969 cells, of which 302 are neurons. Despite its small size, the worm is a complex organism able to do all of the things animals must do to survive. It can move, eat, mate, and process environmental cues that help it forage for food or react to threats. As a bonus for researchers, C. elegans is transparent. By using various imaging technologies, including optical microscopes, one can literally see into the worm and watch physiological processes in real time.

Numerous studies have been done by "worm labs" around the world exploring various neurological processes in C. elegans. These have typically been done using one worm at a time, with the animal's body fixed in place on a slide. In their new paper, Albrecht's team details how they imaged, recorded, and analyzed specific neurons in multiple animals as they wormed their way around a custom-designed microfluidic array, called an arena, where they were exposed to favorable or hostile sensory cues.

Specifically, the team engineered a strain of worms with neurons near the head that would glow when they sensed food odors. In experiments involving up to 23 worms at a time, Albrecht's team infused pulses of attractive or repulsive odors into the arena and watched how the worms reacted. In general, the worms moved towards the positive odors and away from the negative odors, but the behaviors did not always follow this pattern. "We were able to show that the sensory neurons responded to the odors similarly in all the animals, but their behavioral responses differed significantly," Albrecht said. "These animals are genetically identical, and they were raised together in the same environment, so where do their different choices come from?""

In addition to watching the head neurons light up as they picked up odor cues, the new system can trace signaling through "interneurons." These are pathways that connect external sensors to the rest of the network (the "worm brain") and send signals to muscle cells that adjust the worm's movement based on the cues. Numerous brain disorders in people are believed to arise when neural networks malfunction. In some cases the malfunction is dramatic overreaction to a routine stimulus, while in others it is a lack of appropriate reactions to important cues. Since C. elegans and humans share many of the same genes, discovering genetic causes for differing neuronal responses in worms could be applicable to human physiology. Experimental compounds designed to modulate the action of nerve cells and neuronal networks could be tested first on worms using Albrecht's new system. The compounds would be infused in the worm arena, along with other stimuli, and the reaction of the worms' nervous systems could be imaged and analyzed.

"The basis of our work is to combine biomedical engineering and neuroscience to answer some of these fundamental questions and hopefully gain insight that would be beneficial for understanding and eventually treating human disorders," Albrecht said.


Contact: Michael Cohen
Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Related biology news :

1. Natures glowing slime: Scientists peek into hidden sea worms light
2. Scientists shed light on glowing materials
3. Tissue loss triggers regeneration in planarian flatworms
4. Rutgers study: Worms may shed light on human ability to handle chronic stress
5. Thermal limit for animal life redefined by first lab study of deep-sea vent worms
6. Invasion of the slugs -- halted by worms...
7. Bizarre bone worms emit acid to feast on whale skeletons
8. Fat worms inch scientists toward better biofuel production
9. Thailand: Astonishing 10 new species of semi-aquatic freshwater earthworms revealed
10. Waste removal in worms reveals new mechanism to regulate calcium signaling
11. What do leeches, limpets and worms have in common? Now, a sequenced genome
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Glowing worms illuminate the roots of behavior
(Date:10/27/2015)... Munich, Germany , ... (ASGM) automatically maps data from mobile eye tracking videos ... so that they can be quantitatively analyzed with SMI,s ... Germany , October 28-29, 2015. SMI,s Automated Semantic ... eye tracking videos created with SMI,s Eye Tracking ...
(Date:10/26/2015)... and LAS VEGAS , Oct. 26, ... , an innovator in modern authentication and a founding ... the launch of its latest version of the Nok ... organizations to use standards-based authentication that supports existing and ... Authentication Suite is ideal for organizations deploying customer-facing applications ...
(Date:10/23/2015)... California , October 23, 2015 ... (SMI) announce a mobile plug and play integration of ... real-world tasks SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI) present ... wearable solutions for eye tracking and physiological data registration. ... SMI Eye Tracking Glasses 2w and physiological ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... IN (PRWEB) , ... November 24, 2015 , ... The ... newest Special Interest Group (SIG), MultiGP, also known as Multirotor Grand Prix, to represent ... the last few years. Many AMA members have embraced this type of racing and ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... TEL AVIV, Israel , Nov. 24, 2015  Tikcro Technologies Ltd. ... be held on December 29, 2015 at 11:00 a.m. Israel ... & Co., Electra Tower, 98 Yigal Allon Street, 36 th Floor, ... , election of Eric Paneth and Izhak Tamir ... and Rami Skaliter as external directors; , approval of an ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... Urdorf, Switzerland (PRWEB) , ... November 24, 2015 ... ... the plant and the environment are paramount. Insertion points for in-line sensors can ... TOLEDO has developed the InTrac 781/784 series of retractable sensor housings , ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... 24, 2015 /CNW Telbec/ - ProMetic Life Sciences Inc. (TSX: ... Mr. Pierre Laurin , President and Chief Executive Officer ... upcoming Piper Jaffray 27 th Annual Healthcare Conference to ... 1-2, 2015. st , at 8.50am (ET) ... throughout the day. The presentation will be available live via ...
Breaking Biology Technology: