The fundamental role of pirouettes in Caenorhabditis elegans chemotaxis

J Neurosci. 1999 Nov 1;19(21):9557-69. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.19-21-09557.1999.


To investigate the behavioral mechanism of chemotaxis in Caenorhabditis elegans, we recorded the instantaneous position, speed, and turning rate of single worms as a function of time during chemotaxis in gradients of the attractants ammonium chloride or biotin. Analysis of turning rate showed that each worm track could be divided into periods of smooth swimming (runs) and periods of frequent turning (pirouettes). The initiation of pirouettes was correlated with the rate of change of concentration (dC/dt) but not with absolute concentration. Pirouettes were most likely to occur when a worm was heading down the gradient (dC/dt < 0) and least likely to occur when a worm was heading up the gradient (dC/dt > 0). Further analysis revealed that the average direction of movement after a pirouette was up the gradient. These observations suggest that chemotaxis is produced by a series of pirouettes that reorient the animal to the gradient. We tested this idea by imposing the correlation between pirouettes and dC/dt on a stochastic point model of worm motion. The model exhibited chemotaxis behavior in a radial gradient and also in a novel planar gradient. Thus, the pirouette model of C. elegans chemotaxis is sufficient and general.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ammonium Chloride
  • Animals
  • Biotin
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Chemotaxis / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Normal Distribution


  • Ammonium Chloride
  • Biotin