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Olfactory Plasticity Is Regulated by Pheromonal Signaling in Caenorhabditis elegans

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Science  24 Sep 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5999, pp. 1647-1650
DOI: 10.1126/science.1192020

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Abstract

Population density–dependent dispersal is a well-characterized strategy of animal behavior in which dispersal rate increases when population density is higher. Caenorhabditis elegans shows positive chemotaxis to a set of odorants, but the chemotaxis switches from attraction to dispersal after prolonged exposure to the odorants. We show here that this plasticity of olfactory behavior is dependent on population density and that this regulation is mediated by pheromonal signaling. We show that a peptide, suppressor of NEP-2 (SNET-1), negatively regulates olfactory plasticity and that its expression is down-regulated by the pheromone. NEP-2, a homolog of the extracellular peptidase neprilysin, antagonizes SNET-1, and this function is essential for olfactory plasticity. These results suggest that population density information is transmitted through the external pheromone and endogenous peptide signaling to modulate chemotactic behavior.

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