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Caenorhabditis elegans excitatory ventral cord motor neurons derive rhythm for body undulation.

  • Wen, Quan1, 2
  • Gao, Shangbang3
  • Zhen, Mei4
  • 1 Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at the Microscale, School of Life Sciences, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei 230027, People's Republic of China [email protected] , (China)
  • 2 Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai, 200031, People's Republic of China. , (China)
  • 3 College of Life Science and Technology, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan 430074, People's Republic of China [email protected] , (China)
  • 4 The Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital; Department of Molecular Genetics, Department of Physiology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1XS, Canada [email protected] , (Canada)
Published Article
Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences
The Royal Society
Publication Date
Sep 10, 2018
DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2017.0370
PMID: 30201835


The intrinsic oscillatory activity of central pattern generators underlies motor rhythm. We review and discuss recent findings that address the origin of Caenorhabditis elegans motor rhythm. These studies propose that the A- and mid-body B-class excitatory motor neurons at the ventral cord function as non-bursting intrinsic oscillators to underlie body undulation during reversal and forward movements, respectively. Proprioception entrains their intrinsic activities, allows phase-coupling between members of the same class motor neurons, and thereby facilitates directional propagation of undulations. Distinct pools of premotor interneurons project along the ventral nerve cord to innervate all members of the A- and B-class motor neurons, modulating their oscillations, as well as promoting their bi-directional coupling. The two motor sub-circuits, which consist of oscillators and descending inputs with distinct properties, form the structural base of dynamic rhythmicity and flexible partition of the forward and backward motor states. These results contribute to a continuous effort to establish a mechanistic and dynamic model of the C. elegans sensorimotor system. C. elegans exhibits rich sensorimotor functions despite a small neuron number. These findings implicate a circuit-level functional compression. By integrating the role of rhythm generation and proprioception into motor neurons, and the role of descending regulation of oscillators into premotor interneurons, this numerically simple nervous system can achieve a circuit infrastructure analogous to that of anatomically complex systems. C. elegans has manifested itself as a compact model to search for general principles of sensorimotor behaviours.This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'Connectome to behaviour: modelling C. elegans at cellular resolution'. © 2018 The Author(s).

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