C. elegans odour discrimination requires asymmetric diversity in olfactory neurons

Nature. 2001 Apr 5;410(6829):698-701. doi: 10.1038/35070581.


Caenorhabditis elegans senses at least five attractive odours with a single pair of olfactory neurons, AWC, but can distinguish among these odours in behavioural assays. The two AWC neurons are structurally and functionally similar, but the G-protein-coupled receptor STR-2 is randomly expressed in either the left or the right AWC neuron, never in both. Here we describe the isolation of a mutant, ky542, with specific defects in odour discrimination and odour chemotaxis. ky542 is an allele of nsy-1, a neuronal symmetry, or Nsy, mutant in which STR-2 is expressed in both AWC neurons. Other Nsy mutants exhibit discrimination and olfactory defects like those of nsy-1 mutants. Laser ablation of the AWC neuron that does not express STR-2 (AWCOFF) recapitulates the behavioural phenotype of Nsy mutants, whereas laser ablation of the STR-2-expressing AWC neuron (AWCON) causes different chemotaxis defects. We propose that odour discrimination can be achieved by segregating the detection of different odours into distinct olfactory neurons or into unique combinations of olfactory neurons.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzaldehydes
  • Butanones
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Chemotaxis / genetics
  • Chemotaxis / physiology
  • Mutation
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / physiology*
  • Smell / genetics
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Thiazoles


  • Benzaldehydes
  • Butanones
  • Thiazoles
  • 2,4,5-trimethylthiazole
  • benzaldehyde