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 cou
|Contact: Michael Cohen|
Worcester Polytechnic Institute