October 26, 2020

The female-specific VC neurons are mechanically activated, feed-forward motor neurons that facilitate serotonin-induced egg laying in C. elegans

Successful execution of behavior requires the 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 C. elegans. Here we show that the female-specific, Ventral C (VC) motoneurons are required 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. However, while silencing of the VCs does not grossly affect steady-state egg-laying behavior, VC silencing does block egg laying in response to serotonin and increases the failure rate of egg-laying attempts. Signaling from the VCs 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.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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