Dopamine signaling tunes spatial pattern selectivity in C. elegans.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


eLife, Volume 6 (2017)


Animals with complex brains can discriminate the spatial arrangement of physical features in the environment. It is unknown whether such sensitivity to spatial patterns can be accomplished in simpler nervous systems that lack long-range sensory modalities such as vision and hearing. Here we show that the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans can discriminate spatial patterns in its surroundings, despite having a nervous system of only 302 neurons. This spatial pattern selectivity requires touch-dependent dopamine signaling, including the mechanosensory TRP-4 channel in dopaminergic neurons and the D2-like dopamine receptor DOP-3. We find that spatial pattern selectivity varies significantly among C. elegans wild isolates. Electrophysiological recordings show that natural variations in TRP-4 reduce the mechanosensitivity of dopaminergic neurons. Polymorphic substitutions in either TRP-4 or DOP-3 alter the selectivity of spatial patterns. Together, these results demonstrate an ancestral role for dopamine signaling in tuning spatial pattern preferences in a simple nervous system.