Neuropeptides are important modulators of neuronal activity. They are synthesized by and secreted from neurons to change the electrical properties of their target cells (other neurons or muscle cells). In order to understand the way the nervous system controls behavior, a complete description of the neuropeptides and the precise way they affect their targets is needed. In vertebrate nervous systems (including the human brain) this information is woefully incomplete because the number of neuropeptides is so large, and because the circuits they control are so large and complex. This project will exploit the unique properties of the nematode nervous system; it is extremely simple, containing a total of only 298 neurons. This enormous reduction in complexity should enable us to understand the role of neuropeptides in controlling the activity of the individual neurons within a circuit as they in turn control behavior. Achieving this understanding is our ultimate goal. The proposed research will involve a newly developed method for picking out identified neurons one at a time, and finding their peptide content by mass spectrometry. The amino acid sequence of each peptide can be determined at the same time. This is a powerful method for finding which peptides are found in each individual neuron. After the peptides have been identified and characterized, their biological activity will be determined.
Because of the striking simplicity of the nematode nervous system and its experimental accessibility, this project will allow us to continue to provide the valuable training opportunities that have already been made available to students, both pre-college students and undergraduates, who are entering research for the first time. Previous efforts have already specifically involved the recruitment of women and underrepresented minorities into research, and this project will enable us to extend this important opportunity.