Age-dependent cognitive and behavioral deterioration may arise from defects in different components of the nervous system, including those of neurons, synapses, glial cells, or a combination of them. We find that AFD, the primary thermosensory neuron of Caenorhabditis elegans, in aged animals is characterized by loss of sensory ending integrity, including reduced actin-based microvilli abundance and aggregation of thermosensory guanylyl cyclases. At the functional level, AFD neurons in aged animals are hypersensitive to high temperatures and show sustained sensory-evoked calcium dynamics, resulting in a prolonged operating range. At the behavioral level, senescent animals display cryophilic behaviors that remain plastic to acute temperature changes. Excessive cyclase activity of the AFD-specific guanylyl cyclase, GCY-8, is associated with developmental defects in AFD sensory ending and cryophilic behavior. Surprisingly, loss of the GCY-8 cyclase domain reduces these age-dependent morphological and behavioral changes, while a prolonged AFD operating range still exists in gcy-8 animals. The lack of apparent correlation between age-dependent changes in the morphology or stimuli-evoked response properties of primary sensory neurons and those in related behaviors highlights the importance of quantitative analyses of aging features when interpreting age-related changes at structural and functional levels. Our work identifies aging hallmarks in AFD receptive ending, temperature-evoked AFD responses, and experience-based thermotaxis behavior, which serve as a foundation to further elucidate the neural basis of cognitive aging.
Keywords: Caenorhabditis elegans; actin; aging; behavior; calcium; cilia; neural plasticity; sensory neuron.
© 2020 The Authors. Aging Cell published by the Anatomical Society and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.