C. elegans foraging as a model for understanding the neuronal basis of decision-making

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2024 Jun 8;81(1):252. doi: 10.1007/s00018-024-05223-1.


Animals have evolved to seek, select, and exploit food sources in their environment. Collectively termed foraging, these ubiquitous behaviors are necessary for animal survival. As a foundation for understanding foraging, behavioral ecologists established early theoretical and mathematical frameworks which have been subsequently refined and supported by field and laboratory studies of foraging animals. These simple models sought to explain how animals decide which strategies to employ when locating food, what food items to consume, and when to explore the environment for new food sources. These foraging decisions involve integration of prior experience with multimodal sensory information about the animal's current environment and internal state. We suggest that the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is well-suited for a high-resolution analysis of complex goal-oriented behaviors such as foraging. We focus our discussion on behavioral studies highlighting C. elegans foraging on bacteria and summarize what is known about the underlying neuronal and molecular pathways. Broadly, we suggest that this simple model system can provide a mechanistic understanding of decision-making and present additional avenues for advancing our understanding of complex behavioral processes.

Keywords: Dietary choice; Exploitation; Exploration; Patch-leaving.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans* / physiology
  • Decision Making* / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior* / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurons* / physiology