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Papers of the Week

Papers: 28 Dec 2019 - 3 Jan 2020

Animal Studies

2019 12

PLoS Genet



Identification of avoidance genes through neural pathway-specific forward optogenetics.


Marques F, Saro G, Lia A-S, Poole RJ, Falquet L, Glauser DA
PLoS Genet. 2019 12; 15(12):e1008509.
PMID: 31891575.


Understanding how the nervous system bridges sensation and behavior requires the elucidation of complex neural and molecular networks. Forward genetic approaches, such as screens conducted in C. elegans, have successfully identified genes required to process natural sensory stimuli. However, functional redundancy within the underlying neural circuits, which are often organized with multiple parallel neural pathways, limits our ability to identify 'neural pathway-specific genes', i.e. genes that are essential for the function of some, but not all of these redundant neural pathways. To overcome this limitation, we developed a 'forward optogenetics' screening strategy in which natural stimuli are initially replaced by the selective optogenetic activation of a specific neural pathway. We used this strategy to address the function of the polymodal FLP nociceptors mediating avoidance of noxious thermal and mechanical stimuli. According to our expectations, we identified both mutations in 'general' avoidance genes that broadly impact avoidance responses to a variety of natural noxious stimuli (unc-4, unc-83, and eat-4) and mutations that produce a narrower impact, more restricted to the FLP pathway (syd-2, unc-14 and unc-68). Through a detailed follow-up analysis, we further showed that the Ryanodine receptor UNC-68 acts cell-autonomously in FLP to adjust heat-evoked calcium signals and aversive behaviors. As a whole, our work (i) reveals the importance of properly regulated ER calcium release for FLP function, (ii) provides new entry points for new nociception research and (iii) demonstrates the utility of our forward optogenetic strategy, which can easily be transposed to analyze other neural pathways.