Glia-derived neurons are required for sex-specific learning in C. elegans

Nature. 2015 Oct 15;526(7573):385-390. doi: 10.1038/nature15700.


Sex differences in behaviour extend to cognitive-like processes such as learning, but the underlying dimorphisms in neural circuit development and organization that generate these behavioural differences are largely unknown. Here we define at the single-cell level-from development, through neural circuit connectivity, to function-the neural basis of a sex-specific learning in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. We show that sexual conditioning, a form of associative learning, requires a pair of male-specific interneurons whose progenitors are fully differentiated glia. These neurons are generated during sexual maturation and incorporated into pre-exisiting sex-shared circuits to couple chemotactic responses to reproductive priorities. Our findings reveal a general role for glia as neural progenitors across metazoan taxa and demonstrate that the addition of sex-specific neuron types to brain circuits during sexual maturation is an important mechanism for the generation of sexually dimorphic plasticity in learning.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / cytology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Separation
  • Cell Transdifferentiation
  • Chemotaxis
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Interneurons / classification
  • Interneurons / cytology*
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways
  • Neural Stem Cells / cytology
  • Neurogenesis
  • Neuroglia / cytology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Reproduction / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Sexual Maturation
  • Single-Cell Analysis