Neuromodulatory Control of Long-Term Behavioral Patterns and Individuality across Development

Cell. 2017 Dec 14;171(7):1649-1662.e10. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.10.041. Epub 2017 Nov 30.


Animals generate complex patterns of behavior across development that may be shared or unique to individuals. Here, we examine the contributions of developmental programs and individual variation to behavior by monitoring single Caenorhabditis elegans nematodes over their complete developmental trajectories and quantifying their behavior at high spatiotemporal resolution. These measurements reveal reproducible trajectories of spontaneous foraging behaviors that are stereotyped within and between developmental stages. Dopamine, serotonin, the neuropeptide receptor NPR-1, and the TGF-β peptide DAF-7 each have stage-specific effects on behavioral trajectories, implying the existence of a modular temporal program controlled by neuromodulators. In addition, a fraction of individuals within isogenic populations raised in controlled environments have consistent, non-genetic behavioral biases that persist across development. Several neuromodulatory systems increase or decrease the degree of non-genetic individuality to shape sustained patterns of behavior across the population.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Biological Variation, Individual*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / growth & development*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Larva / physiology
  • Neuroimaging / instrumentation
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Neuropeptides / genetics
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Serotonin / genetics
  • Receptors, Serotonin / metabolism


  • Neuropeptides
  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Dopamine