High-content behavioral analysis of Caenorhabditis elegans in precise spatiotemporal chemical environments

Nat Methods. 2011 Jun 12;8(7):599-605. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.1630.


To quantitatively understand chemosensory behaviors, it is desirable to present many animals with repeatable, well-defined chemical stimuli. To that end, we describe a microfluidic system to analyze Caenorhabditis elegans behavior in defined temporal and spatial stimulus patterns. A 2 cm × 2 cm structured arena allowed C. elegans to perform crawling locomotion in a controlled liquid environment. We characterized behavioral responses to attractive odors with three stimulus patterns: temporal pulses, spatial stripes and a linear concentration gradient, all delivered in the fluid phase to eliminate variability associated with air-fluid transitions. Different stimulus configurations preferentially revealed turning dynamics in a biased random walk, directed orientation into an odor stripe and speed regulation by odor. We identified both expected and unexpected responses in wild-type worms and sensory mutants by quantifying dozens of behavioral parameters. The devices are inexpensive, easy to fabricate, reusable and suitable for delivering any liquid-borne stimulus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / drug effects*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Dimethylpolysiloxanes / chemistry
  • Dimethylpolysiloxanes / pharmacology
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / instrumentation
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / methods*
  • Polymers / chemistry
  • Polymers / pharmacology
  • Time Factors


  • Dimethylpolysiloxanes
  • Polymers