Excitatory motor neurons are local oscillators for backward locomotion

Elife. 2018 Jan 23:7:e29915. doi: 10.7554/eLife.29915.


Cell- or network-driven oscillators underlie motor rhythmicity. The identity of C. elegans oscillators remains unknown. Through cell ablation, electrophysiology, and calcium imaging, we show: (1) forward and backward locomotion is driven by different oscillators; (2) the cholinergic and excitatory A-class motor neurons exhibit intrinsic and oscillatory activity that is sufficient to drive backward locomotion in the absence of premotor interneurons; (3) the UNC-2 P/Q/N high-voltage-activated calcium current underlies A motor neuron's oscillation; (4) descending premotor interneurons AVA, via an evolutionarily conserved, mixed gap junction and chemical synapse configuration, exert state-dependent inhibition and potentiation of A motor neuron's intrinsic activity to regulate backward locomotion. Thus, motor neurons themselves derive rhythms, which are dually regulated by the descending interneurons to control the reversal motor state. These and previous findings exemplify compression: essential circuit properties are conserved but executed by fewer numbers and layers of neurons in a small locomotor network.

Keywords: C. elegans; Central Pattern Generator (CPG); locomotion; motor neuron; neuroscience; oscillation; rhythm.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Cholinergic Neurons / physiology
  • Interneurons / physiology
  • Locomotion*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Periodicity*