The long-term objective of this proposal is to understand how genes specify the development and functioning of a behavioral system. Toward this end, the anatomically simple egg-laying system of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans will be analyzed using methods of genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, cell biology, electrophysiology and behavioral biology. Mutants abnormal in the development of the vulva (through which eggs are laid) will be studied to reveal the normal biological functions of and interactions among genes with human counterparts involved in cancer and other diseases. Because these genes act in different cell types, these studies might help reveal how cancer-gene mutations in one tissue lead to the cancerous proliferation of cells in another tissue. Because many of the genes that regulate vulval development control chromatin modifications, studies of these genes, many of which are evolutionarily conserved among species as divergent as nematodes and humans, should reveal general mechanisms involved in epigenetic inheritance, stem cell biology and such aspects of developmental biology as the determination of cell fates and differentiation. Mutants abnormal in the behavior of egg laying or in other behaviors coordinately regulated with egg laying will be identified and analyzed to establish the mechanisms used by C. elegans to modulate its behavior in response to both its environment and its experience. The focus will be on neuromodulators, specifically neuropeptides and biogenic amines. In humans, neuropeptides modulate reproduction, growth, temperature control, food intake and metabolism as well as cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and respiratory control, and the biogenic amine serotonin modulates mood, sleep and pain and is the target of the major pharmaceutical agents used to treat depression - Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. The identification and characterization of genes that regulate neuropeptide and serotonin synthesis, release and function in the control of C. elegans egg-laying and other behaviors should reveal mechanisms that are evolutionarily conserved and that are important in many aspects of human physiology and a wide range of human behaviors and diseases. In addition, how the environment and experience modulate behavior is a fundamental and important problem in neuroscience, and these studies should establish genetic, molecular and cellular mechanisms responsible for how sensory stimuli regulate behavior and how information about past experience is stored and retrieved.

Public Health Relevance

An understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that control animal development and behavior is key to an understanding of many aspects of human health and disease. This project proposes to identify such mechanisms by analyzing the development and functioning of the egg-laying system of the experimentally tractable roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, which shares many genetic, molecular and cellular features with more complicated animals, including humans.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Development - 1 Study Section (DEV1)
Program Officer
Tompkins, Laurie
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Van Bael, Sven; Watteyne, Jan; Boonen, Kurt et al. (2018) Mass spectrometric evidence for neuropeptide-amidating enzymes in Caenorhabditis elegans . J Biol Chem 293:6052-6063
Burton, Nicholas O; Dwivedi, Vivek K; Burkhart, Kirk B et al. (2018) Neurohormonal signaling via a sulfotransferase antagonizes insulin-like signaling to regulate a Caenorhabditis elegans stress response. Nat Commun 9:5152
Burton, Nicholas O; Furuta, Tokiko; Webster, Amy K et al. (2017) Insulin-like signalling to the maternal germline controls progeny response to osmotic stress. Nat Cell Biol 19:252-257
Luo, Shuo; Horvitz, H Robert (2017) The CDK8 Complex and Proneural Proteins Together Drive Neurogenesis from a Mesodermal Lineage. Curr Biol 27:661-672
Paquin, Nicolas; Murata, Yasunobu; Froehlich, Allan et al. (2016) The Conserved VPS-50 Protein Functions in Dense-Core Vesicle Maturation and Acidification and Controls Animal Behavior. Curr Biol 26:862-71
Bhatla, Nikhil; Droste, Rita; Sando, Steven R et al. (2015) Distinct Neural Circuits Control Rhythm Inhibition and Spitting by the Myogenic Pharynx of C. elegans. Curr Biol 25:2075-89
Ma, Dengke K; Li, Zhijie; Lu, Alice Y et al. (2015) Acyl-CoA Dehydrogenase Drives Heat Adaptation by Sequestering Fatty Acids. Cell 161:1152-1163
Bhatla, Nikhil; Horvitz, H Robert (2015) Light and hydrogen peroxide inhibit C. elegans Feeding through gustatory receptor orthologs and pharyngeal neurons. Neuron 85:804-18
de la Cruz, Ignacio Perez; Ma, Long; Horvitz, H Robert (2014) The Caenorhabditis elegans iodotyrosine deiodinase ortholog SUP-18 functions through a conserved channel SC-box to regulate the muscle two-pore domain potassium channel SUP-9. PLoS Genet 10:e1004175
Rawson, Randi L; Yam, Lung; Weimer, Robby M et al. (2014) Axons degenerate in the absence of mitochondria in C. elegans. Curr Biol 24:760-5

Showing the most recent 10 out of 124 publications