Catecholamine receptor polymorphisms affect decision-making in C. elegans

Nature. 2011 Apr 21;472(7343):313-8. doi: 10.1038/nature09821. Epub 2011 Mar 16.


Innate behaviours are flexible: they change rapidly in response to transient environmental conditions, and are modified slowly by changes in the genome. A classical flexible behaviour is the exploration-exploitation decision, which describes the time at which foraging animals choose to abandon a depleting food supply. We have used quantitative genetic analysis to examine the decision to leave a food patch in Caenorhabditis elegans. Here we show that patch-leaving is a multigenic trait regulated in part by naturally occurring non-coding polymorphisms in tyra-3 (tyramine receptor 3), which encodes a G-protein-coupled catecholamine receptor related to vertebrate adrenergic receptors. tyra-3 acts in sensory neurons that detect environmental cues, suggesting that the internal catecholamines detected by tyra-3 regulate responses to external conditions. These results indicate that genetic variation and environmental cues converge on common circuits to regulate behaviour, and suggest that catecholamines have an ancient role in regulating behavioural decisions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / classification
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism
  • Catecholamines / metabolism
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Environment
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Multifactorial Inheritance / genetics
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics*
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / genetics
  • Receptors, Catecholamine / genetics*
  • Receptors, Catecholamine / metabolism
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / metabolism
  • Time Factors
  • Tyramine / metabolism


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Catecholamines
  • Receptors, Catecholamine
  • tyramine receptor 3, C elegans
  • 3-tyramine
  • Tyramine