Adults perform better than juveniles in food-seeking tasks. Using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to probe the neural mechanisms underlying behavioral maturation, we found that adults and juveniles require different combinations of sensory neurons to generate age-specific food-seeking behavior. We first show that adults and juveniles differ in their response to and preference for food-associated odors, and we analyze genetic mutants to map the neuronal circuits required for those behavioral responses. We developed a novel device to trap juveniles and record their neuronal activity. Activity measurements revealed that adult and juvenile AWA sensory neurons respond to the addition of diacetyl stimulus, whereas AWB, ASK, and AWC sensory neurons encode its removal specifically in adults. Further, we show that reducing neurotransmission from the additional AWB, ASK, and AWC sensory neurons transforms odor preferences from an adult to a juvenile-like state. We also show that AWB and ASK neurons drive behavioral changes exclusively in adults, providing more evidence that age-specific circuits drive age-specific behavior. Collectively, our results show that an odor-evoked sensory code is modified during the juvenile-to-adult transition in animal development to drive age-appropriate behavior. We suggest that this altered sensory code specifically enables adults to extract additional stimulus features and generate robust behavior.
Keywords: behavior; chemotaxis; development; neural circuits; sensory code.