Homeostatic feedback modulates the development of two-state patterned activity in a model serotonin motor circuit in Caenorhabditis elegans

Bhavya Ravi, Jessica Garcia, Kevin M. Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Neuron activity accompanies synapse formation and maintenance, but how early circuit activity contributes to behavior development is not well understood. Here, we use the Caenorhabditis elegans egg-laying motor circuit as a model to understand how coordinated cell and circuit activity develops and drives a robust two-state behavior in adults. Using calcium imaging in behaving animals, we find the serotonergic hermaphrodite-specific neurons (HSNs) and vulval muscles show rhythmic calcium transients in L4 larvae before eggs are produced. HSN activity in L4 is tonic and lacks the alternating burst-firing/quiescent pattern seen in egg-laying adults. Vulval muscle activity in L4 is initially uncoordinated but becomes synchronous as the anterior and posterior muscle arms meet at HSN synaptic release sites. However, coordinated muscle activity does not require presynaptic HSN input. Using reversible silencing experiments, we show that neuronal and vulval muscle activity in L4 is not required for the onset of adult behavior. Instead, the accumulation of eggs in the adult uterus renders the muscles sensitive to HSN input. Sterilization or acute electrical silencing of the vulval muscles inhibits presynaptic HSN activity and reversal of muscle silencing triggers a homeostatic increase in HSN activity and egg release that maintains ~12–15 eggs in the uterus. Feedback of egg accumulation depends upon the vulval muscle postsynaptic terminus, suggesting that a retrograde signal sustains HSN synaptic activity and egg release. Our results show that egg-laying behavior in C. elegans is driven by a homeostat that scales serotonin motor neuron activity in response to postsynaptic muscle feedback.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6283-6298
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number28
StatePublished - Jul 11 2018


  • Behavior
  • C. elegans
  • Calcium
  • Circuit
  • Developmental biology
  • Serotonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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