Friday, 11 September 2015

Animal behavior reversed by altering one cell receptor


by Susanna Pilny

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School have shown—for the first time ever—that it’s possible to reverse an animal’s behavior by flipping around how one of its cells communicate.

The team turned to C. elegans, a nematode, in order to explore neuron signaling in depth. These nematodes have been extensively studied, to the point where their 302 neurons have a fully fleshed-out roadmap. (No other animal has a completely mapped neural wiring diagram.)

Researchers have also tied many of C. elegans’ behaviors to its neuronal roadmap, including an escape response activated by touching the front half of its body. The neural pathway involved in this response involves the actions of both excitatory and inhibitory neurons—cells that activate other neurons or hinder their actions. The pathway eventually leads to an inhibitory ion channel; once the inhibitory channel is activated, the nematode relaxes its head and changes directions in order to escape a predatory fungus.

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