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Regulation of two motor patterns enables the gradual adjustment of locomotion strategy in Caenorhabditis elegans

Hums I, Reidl J, Mende F, Kato S, Kaplan HS, Latham R, Sonntag M, Traunmuller L, Zimmer M




In animal locomotion a tradeoff exists between stereotypy and flexibility: fast long-distance travelling (LDT) requires coherent regular motions, while local sampling and area-restricted search (ARS) rely on flexible movements. We report here on a posture control system in C. elegans that coordinates these needs. Using quantitative posture analysis we explain worm locomotion as a composite of two modes: regular undulations versus flexible turning. Graded reciprocal regulation of both modes allows animals to flexibly adapt their locomotion strategy under sensory stimulation along a spectrum ranging from LDT to ARS. Using genetics and functional imaging of neural activity we characterize the counteracting interneurons AVK and DVA that utilize FLP-1 and NLP-12 neuropeptides to control both motor modes. Gradual regulation of behaviors via this system is required for spatial navigation during chemotaxis. This work shows how a nervous system controls simple elementary features of posture to generate complex movements for goal-directed locomotion strategies.

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