A cellular and regulatory map of the cholinergic nervous system of C. elegans

Elife. 2015 Dec 25:4:e12432. doi: 10.7554/eLife.12432.


Nervous system maps are of critical importance for understanding how nervous systems develop and function. We systematically map here all cholinergic neuron types in the male and hermaphrodite C. elegans nervous system. We find that acetylcholine (ACh) is the most broadly used neurotransmitter and we analyze its usage relative to other neurotransmitters within the context of the entire connectome and within specific network motifs embedded in the connectome. We reveal several dynamic aspects of cholinergic neurotransmitter identity, including a sexually dimorphic glutamatergic to cholinergic neurotransmitter switch in a sex-shared interneuron. An expression pattern analysis of ACh-gated anion channels furthermore suggests that ACh may also operate very broadly as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. As a first application of this comprehensive neurotransmitter map, we identify transcriptional regulatory mechanisms that control cholinergic neurotransmitter identity and cholinergic circuit assembly.

Keywords: c. elegans; neuronal identity; neuroscience; neurotransmitter; transcriptional regulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / anatomy & histology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Cholinergic Agents / metabolism
  • Cholinergic Fibers*
  • Connectome*
  • Female
  • Interneurons
  • Male
  • Nervous System / anatomy & histology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism


  • Cholinergic Agents
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Acetylcholine