Foraging animals have distinct exploration and exploitation behaviors that are organized into discrete behavioral states. Here, we characterize a neuromodulatory circuit that generates long-lasting roaming and dwelling states in Caenorhabditis elegans. We find that two opposing neuromodulators, serotonin and the neuropeptide pigment dispersing factor (PDF), each initiate and extend one behavioral state. Serotonin promotes dwelling states through the MOD-1 serotonin-gated chloride channel. The spontaneous activity of serotonergic neurons correlates with dwelling behavior, and optogenetic modulation of the critical MOD-1-expressing targets induces prolonged dwelling states. PDF promotes roaming states through a Gαs-coupled PDF receptor; optogenetic activation of cAMP production in PDF receptor-expressing cells induces prolonged roaming states. The neurons that produce and respond to each neuromodulator form a distributed circuit orthogonal to the classical wiring diagram, with several essential neurons that express each molecule. The slow temporal dynamics of this neuromodulatory circuit supplement fast motor circuits to organize long-lasting behavioral states.
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