Animals change their behavior in an ever-changing environment in order to survive and reproduce. The researchers are trying to understand how changes in the environment can alter behavior. Studies have shown that an animal's sensory perception of attractive and noxious chemical stimuli in its environment can dramatically alter its behavior according to its feeding state. These behavioral modifications could allow them to alter and optimize their food-search strategies. Growing evidence suggests that an animal's feeding state can alter its sensory perception directly by changing the expression levels of chemoreceptor genes. Thus, an important question is to understand how these expression changes may contribute to changes in an animal's behavior. This research investigates, for the first time, the mechanisms by which chemoreceptor genes in a single sensory neuron type are regulated by an animal's feeding state. Since disease-carrying mosquitoes change the expression of chemoreceptor genes as a function of their feeding state, this research will also provide the basis for novel strategies to control chemical-driven host-seeking behavior in these systems.
The researchers investigate the mechanisms of how an animal's feeding state can alter chemosensory behaviors by modulating the expression of chemoreceptor genes. With help of a feeding state-dependent reporter assay to monitor changes in chemoreceptor gene expression combined with genetic, genomic and behavioral approaches in C. elegans, this project will investigate the mechanisms by which the expression of this chemoreceptor gene in a single sensory neuron type, ADL, is modulated by feeding state via insulin and neuropeptide signaling. Genetic approaches will be used to identify potential transcriptional factors required for the expression of this chemoreceptor gene. Behavioral assays will be used to examine whether an altered expression of chemoreceptor genes contributes to altered ADL-mediated responses as a function of feeding state. Lastly, the transcriptional profile of the ADL neuron in starved animals will identify additional genes that provide new targets of regulators of altered behaviors upon starvation. The results of this project will provide critical information into the molecular and neural mechanisms of chemoreceptor gene expression, and the basic mechanisms underlying behavioral plasticity. This research will support the research training of undergraduate and graduate students from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds. This research will also create a 'Sense of Smell Day' for K-12 students as part of Brain Awareness Week in Nevada to teach young explorers in the lab the basics of how the sense of smell works.