Behavioral plasticity in C. elegans: paradigms, circuits, genes

J Neurobiol. 2003 Jan;54(1):203-23. doi: 10.1002/neu.10168.


Life in the soil is an intellectual and practical challenge that the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans masters by utilizing 302 neurons. The nervous system assembled by these 302 neurons is capable of executing a variety of behaviors, some of respectable complexity. The simplicity of the nervous system, its thoroughly characterized structure, several sets of well-defined behaviors, and its genetic amenability combined with its isogenic background make C. elegans an attractive model organism to study the genetics of behavior. This review describes several behavioral plasticity paradigms in C. elegans and their underlying neuronal circuits and then goes on to review the forward genetic analysis that has been undertaken to identify genes involved in the execution of these behaviors. Lastly, the review outlines how reverse genetics and genomic approaches can guide the analysis of the role of genes in behavior and why and how they will complement the forward genetic analysis of behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Association Learning
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology
  • Chemotaxis / genetics
  • Genetics, Behavioral*
  • Genome
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic
  • Locomotion
  • Mechanics
  • Models, Biological
  • Motor Activity / genetics
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Mutation
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Serotonin / physiology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Temperature


  • Serotonin