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Neuroligin tuning of pharyngeal pumping reveals an extrapharyngeal modulation of Caenorhabditis elegans feeding [RESEARCH ARTICLE]



Fernando Calahorro, Francesca Keefe, James Dillon, Lindy Holden-Dye, and Vincent O’Connor

The integration of distinct sensory modalities is essential for behavioural decision making. In C. elegans this process is coordinated by neural circuits that integrate sensory cues from the environment to generate an appropriate behaviour at the appropriate output muscles. Food is a multimodal cue that impacts on the microcircuits to modulating feeding and foraging drivers at the level of the pharyngeal and body wall muscle respectively. When food triggers an upregulation in pharyngeal pumping it allows the effective ingestion of food. Here we show that a C. elegans mutant in the single orthologous gene of human neuroligins, nlg-1, is defective in food induced pumping. This is not explained by an inability to sense food, as nlg-1 mutants are not defective in chemotaxis towards bacteria. In addition, we show that neuroligin is widely expressed in the nervous system including AIY, ADE, ALA, URX and HSN neurones. Interestingly, despite the deficit in pharyngeal pumping neuroligin is not expressed within the pharyngeal neuromuscular network, which suggests an extrapharyngeal regulation of this circuit. We resolve electrophysiologically the neuroligin contribution to the pharyngeal circuit by mimicking a food-dependent pumping, and show that the nlg-1 phenotype is similar to mutants impaired in GABAergic and/or glutamatergic signalling. We suggest that neuroligin organizes extrapharyngeal circuits that regulate the pharynx. These observations based on the molecular and cellular determinants of feeding are consistent with the emerging role of neuroligin in discretely impacting functional circuits underpinning complex behaviours.

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