A microfluidic phenotype analysis system reveals function of sensory and dopaminergic neuron signaling inC. eleganselectrotactic swimming behavior
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The nematode (worm) C. elegans is a leading multicellular animal model to study neuronal-basis of behavior. Worms respond to a wide range of stimuli and exhibit characteristic movement patterns. Here we describe the use of a microfluidics setup to probe neuronal activity that relies on the innate response of C. elegans to swim toward the cathode in the presence of a DC electric field (termed "electrotaxis"). Using this setup, we examined mutants affecting sensory and dopaminergic neurons and found that their electrotactic responses were defective. Such animals moved with reduced speed (35-80% slower than controls) with intermittent pauses, abnormal turning and slower body bends. A similar phenotype was observed in worms treated with neurotoxins 6-OHDA (6- hydroxy dopamine), MPTP (1-methyl 4-phenyl 1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine) and rotenone (20-60% slower). We also found that neurotoxin effects could be suppressed by pre-exposing worms to a known neuroprotective compound acetaminophen. Collectively, these results show that microfluidic electrotaxis can identify alterations in dopamine and amphid neuronal signaling based on swimming responses of C. elegans. Further characterization has revealed that the electrotactic swimming response is highly sensitive and reliable in detecting neuronal abnormalities. Thus, our microfluidics setup could be used to dissect neuronal function and toxin-induced neurodegeneration. Among other applications, the setup promises to facilitate genetic and chemical screenings to identify factors that mediate neuronal signaling and neuroprotection.