Inactivation of conserved C. elegans genes engages pathogen- and xenobiotic-associated defenses

Cell. 2012 Apr 13;149(2):452-66. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2012.02.050.


The nematode C. elegans is attracted to nutritious bacteria and is repelled by pathogens and toxins. Here we show that RNAi and toxin-mediated disruption of core cellular activities, including translation, respiration, and protein turnover, stimulate behavioral avoidance of normally attractive bacteria. RNAi of these and other essential processes induces expression of detoxification and innate immune effectors, even in the absence of toxins or pathogens. Disruption of core processes in non-neuronal tissues was sufficient to stimulate aversion behavior, revealing a neuroendocrine axis of control that additionally required serotonergic and Jnk kinase signaling pathways. We propose that surveillance pathways overseeing core cellular activities allow animals to detect invading pathogens that deploy toxins and virulence factors to undermine vital host functions. Variation in cellular surveillance and endocrine pathways controlling behavior, detoxification, and immunity selected by past toxin or microbial interactions could underlie aberrant responses to foods, medicines, and microbes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / cytology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / immunology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / microbiology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Immunity, Innate
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System
  • Neurosecretory Systems / metabolism
  • RNA Interference
  • Signal Transduction
  • Xenobiotics / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Xenobiotics