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    C. elegans will orient and travel in a straight uninterrupted path directly towards the negative pole of a DC electric field. We have sought to understand the strategy worms use to navigate to the negative pole in a uniform electric field that is fixed in both direction and magnitude. We examined this behavior by quantifying three aspects of electrotaxis behavior in response to different applied field strengths: the mean approach trajectory angles of the animals' tracks, turning behavior (pirouettes) and average population speeds. We determined that C. elegans align directly to the negative pole of an electric field at sub-preferred field strength and alter approach trajectories at higher field strengths to maintain taxis within a preferred range we have calculated to be ~ 5V/cm. We sought to identify the sensory neurons responsible for the animals' tracking to a preferred field strength. eat-4 mutant animals defective in glutamatergic signaling of the amphid sensory neurons are severely electrotaxis defective and ceh-36 mutant animals, which are defective in the terminal differentiation of two types of sensory neurons, AWC and ASE, are partially defective in electrotaxis. To further elucidate the role of the AWC neurons, we examined the role of each of the pair of AWC neurons (AWCOFF and AWCON), which are functionally asymmetric and express different genes. nsy-5/inx-19 mutant animals, which express both neurons as AWCOFF, are severely impaired in electrotaxis behavior while nsy-1 mutants, which express both neurons as AWCON, are able to differentiate field strengths required for navigation to a specific field strength within an electric field. We also tested a strain with targeted genetic ablation of AWC neurons and found that these animals showed only slight disruption of directionality and turning behavior. These results suggest a role for AWC neurons in which complete loss of function is less disruptive than loss of functional asymmetry in electrotaxis behavior within a uniform fixed field.


    Steven D Chrisman, Christopher B Waite, Alison G Scoville, Lucinda Carnell. C. elegans Demonstrates Distinct Behaviors within a Fixed and Uniform Electric Field. PloS one. 2016;11(3):e0151320

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    PMID: 26998749

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