Neural circuit synaptic connectivities (the connectome) provide the anatomical foundation for our understanding of nematode nervous system function. However, other non-synaptic routes of communication are known in invertebrates including extrasynaptic volume transmission (EVT), which enables short- and/or long-range communication in the absence of synaptic connections. Although EVT has been highlighted as a facet of Caenorhabditis elegans neurosignaling, no experimental evidence identifies body cavity fluid (pseudocoelomic fluid; PCF) as a vehicle for either neuropeptide or biogenic amine transmission. In the parasitic nematode Ascaris suum FMRFamide-like peptides encoded on flp-18 potently stimulate female reproductive organs but are only expressed in cells that are anatomically distant from the reproductive organ, with no known synaptic connections to this tissue. Here we report a new non-synaptic mode of signaling in nematodes mediated by neuropeptides within the PCF. Our data show that: (i) A. suum PCF (As-PCF) contains a catalogue of neuropeptides including FMRFamide-like peptides and neuropeptide-like proteins; (ii) the A. suum FMRFamide-like peptide As-FLP-18A dominates the As-PCF peptidome; (iii) As-PCF potently modulates nematode reproductive muscle function ex vivo, mirroring the effects of synthetic FLP-18 peptides; (iv) As-PCF activates the C. elegans FLP-18 receptors NPR-4 and -5; (v) As-PCF alters C. elegans behavior and, (vi) FLP-18 and FLP-18 receptors display pan-phylum distribution in nematodes. Here we provide the first direct experimental evidence that supports an extrasynaptic volume route for neuropeptide transmission in nematodes. These data demonstrate non-synaptic signaling within the nematode functional connectome and are pertinent to receptor deorphanisation approaches underpinning drug discovery programs for nematode pathogens.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience