Animals optimize survival and reproduction in part through control of behavioral states, which depend on the organism's internal and external environments. In the nematode C. elegans, a variety of behavioral states have been described, including roaming, dwelling, quiescence, and episodic swimming. These states have been considered in isolation, under varied experimental conditions, making it difficult to establish a unified picture of how they are regulated. Using long-term imaging, we examined C. elegans episodic behavioral states under varied mechanical and nutritional environments. We found that animals alternate between high activity (active) and low activity (sedentary) episodes in any mechanical environment, while the incidence of episodes and their behavioral composition depends on food levels. During active episodes, worms primarily roam, as characterized by continuous whole-body movement. During sedentary episodes, animals exhibit dwelling (slower movements confined to the anterior half of the body) and quiescence (a complete lack of movement). Roaming, dwelling, and quiescent states are manifest not only through locomotory characteristics but also in pharyngeal pumping (feeding) and in egg laying behaviors. Next, we analyzed the genetic basis of behavioral states. We found that modulation of behavioral states depends on neuropeptides and insulin-like signaling in the nervous system. Sensory neurons and the Foraging homolog EGL-4 regulate behavior through control of active/sedentary episodes. Optogenetic stimulation of dopaminergic and serotonergic neurons induced dwelling, implicating dopamine as a dwell promoting neurotransmitter. Our findings provide a more unified description of behavioral states and suggest that perception of nutrition is a conserved mechanism for regulating animal behavior.
- episodic behavioral state
- insulin-like signaling
- Copyright © 2016, Journal of Neurophysiology