- Keeping track of worm trackers (2012)
- C. elegans is used extensively as a model system in the neurosciences due to its well defined nervous system. However, the seeming simplicity of this nervous system in anatomical structure and neuronal connectivity, at least compared to higher animals, underlies a rich diversity of behaviors. The usefulness of the worm in genome-wide mutagenesis or RNAi screens, where thousands of strains are assessed for phenotype, emphasizes the need for computational methods for automated parameterization of generated behaviors. In addition, behaviors can be modulated upon external cues like temperature, O2 and CO2 concentrations, mechanosensory and chemosensory inputs. Different machine vision tools have been developed to aid researchers in their efforts to inventory and characterize defined behavioral “outputs”. Here we aim at providing an overview of different worm-tracking packages or video analysis tools designed to quantify different aspects of locomotion such as the occurrence of directional changes (turns, omega bends), curvature of the sinusoidal shape (amplitude, body bend angles) and velocity (speed, backward or forward movement).
- Bimodal activation of different neuron classes with the spectrally red-shifted channelrhodopsin chimera C1V1 in Caenorhabditis elegans (2012)
- The C. elegans nervous system is particularly well suited for optogenetic analyses of circuit function: Essentially all connections have been mapped, and light can be directed at the neuron of interest in the freely moving, transparent animals, while behavior is observed. Thus, different nodes of a neuronal network can be probed for their role in controlling a particular behavior, using different optogenetic tools for photo-activation or –inhibition, which respond to different colors of light. As neurons may act in concert or in opposing ways to affect a behavior, one would further like to excite these neurons concomitantly, yet independent of each other. In addition to the blue-light activated Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), spectrally red-shifted ChR variants have been explored recently. Here, we establish the green-light activated ChR chimera C1V1 (from Chlamydomonas and Volvox ChR1′s) for use in C. elegans. We surveyed a number of red-shifted ChRs, and found that C1V1-ET/ET (E122T; E162T) works most reliable in C. elegans, with 540–580 nm excitation, which leaves ChR2 silent. However, as C1V1-ET/ET is very light sensitive, it still becomes activated when ChR2 is stimulated, even at 400 nm. Thus, we generated a highly efficient blue ChR2, the H134R; T159C double mutant (ChR2-HR/TC). Both proteins can be used in the same animal, in different neurons, to independently control each cell type with light, enabling a further level of complexity in circuit analyses.
- Optogenetic long-term manipulation of behavior and animal development (2011)
- Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) is widely used for rapid photodepolarization of neurons, yet, as it requires high-intensity blue light for activation, it is not suited for long-term in vivo applications, e.g. for manipulations of behavior, or photoactivation of neurons during development. We used “slow” ChR2 variants with mutations in the C128 residue, that exhibit delayed off-kinetics and increased light sensitivity in Caenorhabditis elegans. Following a 1 s light pulse, we could photodepolarize neurons and muscles for minutes (and with repeated brief stimulation, up to days) with low-intensity light. Photoactivation of ChR2(C128S) in command interneurons elicited long-lasting alterations in locomotion. Finally, we could optically induce profound changes in animal development: Long-term photoactivation of ASJ neurons, which regulate larval growth, bypassed the constitutive entry into the “dauer” larval state in daf-11 mutants. These lack a guanylyl cyclase, which possibly renders ASJ neurons hyperpolarized. Furthermore, photostimulated ASJ neurons could acutely trigger dauer-exit. Thus, slow ChR2s can be employed to long-term photoactivate behavior and to trigger alternative animal development.
- Microbial light-activatable proton pumps as neuronal inhibitors to functionally dissect neuronal networks in C. elegans (2012)
- Essentially any behavior in simple and complex animals depends on neuronal network function. Currently, the best-defined system to study neuronal circuits is the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, as the connectivity of its 302 neurons is exactly known. Individual neurons can be activated by photostimulation of Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) using blue light, allowing to directly probe the importance of a particular neuron for the respective behavioral output of the network under study. In analogy, other excitable cells can be inhibited by expressing Halorhodopsin from Natronomonas pharaonis (NpHR) and subsequent illumination with yellow light. However, inhibiting C. elegans neurons using NpHR is difficult. Recently, proton pumps from various sources were established as valuable alternative hyperpolarizers. Here we show that archaerhodopsin-3 (Arch) from Halorubrum sodomense and a proton pump from the fungus Leptosphaeria maculans (Mac) can be utilized to effectively inhibit excitable cells in C. elegans. Arch is the most powerful hyperpolarizer when illuminated with yellow or green light while the action spectrum of Mac is more blue-shifted, as analyzed by light-evoked behaviors and electrophysiology. This allows these tools to be combined in various ways with ChR2 to analyze different subsets of neurons within a circuit. We exemplify this by means of the polymodal aversive sensory ASH neurons, and the downstream command interneurons to which ASH neurons signal to trigger a reversal followed by a directional turn. Photostimulating ASH and subsequently inhibiting command interneurons using two-color illumination of different body segments, allows investigating temporal aspects of signaling downstream of ASH.