Sensory experience modifies behavior through both associative and non-associative learning. In Caenorhabditis elegans, pairing odor with food deprivation results in aversive olfactory learning, and pairing odor with food results in appetitive learning. Aversive learning requires nuclear translocation of the cGMP-dependent protein kinase EGL-4 in AWC olfactory neurons and an insulin signal from AIA interneurons. Here we show that the activity of neurons including AIA is acutely required during aversive, but not appetitive, learning. The AIA circuit and AGE-1, an insulin-regulated PI3 kinase, signal to AWC to drive nuclear enrichment of EGL-4 during conditioning. Odor exposure shifts the AWC dynamic range to higher odor concentrations regardless of food pairing or the AIA circuit, whereas AWC coupling to motor circuits is oppositely regulated by aversive and appetitive learning. These results suggest that non-associative sensory adaptation in AWC encodes odor history, while associative behavioral preference is encoded by altered AWC synaptic activity.
Keywords: C. elegans; adaptation; neural circuits; neuroscience; olfaction.