The Sex-Specific VC Neurons Are Mechanically Activated Motor Neurons That Facilitate Serotonin-Induced Egg Laying in C. elegans

Richard J. Kopchock, Bhavya Ravi, Addys Bode, Kevin M. Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Successful execution of behavior requires coordinated activity and communication between multiple cell types. Studies using the relatively simple neural circuits of invertebrates have helped to uncover how conserved molecular and cellular signaling events shape animal behavior. To understand the mechanisms underlying neural circuit activity and behavior, we have been studying a simple circuit that drives egg-laying behavior in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans Here we show that the sex-specific, ventral C (VC) motor neurons are important for vulval muscle contractility and egg laying in response to serotonin. Ca2+ imaging experiments show the VCs are active during times of vulval muscle contraction and vulval opening, and optogenetic stimulation of the VCs promotes vulval muscle Ca2+ activity. Blocking VC neurotransmission inhibits egg laying in response to serotonin and increases the failure rate of egg-laying attempts, indicating that VC signaling facilitates full vulval muscle contraction and opening of the vulva for efficient egg laying. We also find the VCs are mechanically activated in response to vulval opening. Optogenetic stimulation of the vulval muscles is sufficient to drive VC Ca2+ activity and requires muscle contractility, showing the presynaptic VCs and the postsynaptic vulval muscles can mutually excite each other. Together, our results demonstrate that the VC neurons facilitate efficient execution of egg-laying behavior by coordinating postsynaptic muscle contractility in response to serotonin and mechanosensory feedback.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Many animal motor behaviors are modulated by the neurotransmitters, serotonin and ACh. Such motor circuits also respond to mechanosensory feedback, but how neurotransmitters and mechanoreceptors work together to coordinate behavior is not well understood. We address these questions using the egg-laying circuit in Caenorhabditis elegans where we can manipulate presynaptic neuron and postsynaptic muscle activity in behaving animals while recording circuit responses through Ca2+ imaging. We find that the cholinergic VC motoneurons are important for proper vulval muscle contractility and egg laying in response to serotonin. Muscle contraction also activates the VCs, forming a positive feedback loop that promotes full contraction for egg release. In all, mechanosensory feedback provides a parallel form of modulation that shapes circuit responses to neurotransmitters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3635-3650
Number of pages16
JournalThe Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Volume41
Issue number16
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 21 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • ACh
  • behavior
  • circuit
  • feedback
  • mechanosensation
  • serotonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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