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Neuromodulatory circuits and motivated behavior

Monday, September 9, 2013


Cori Bargmann, Ph.D.
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Torsten N. Wiesel Professor
The Rockefeller University

Dr. Bargmann studies the relationships among genes, circuits, and behaviors in the genetically tractable nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, the only animal whose complete synaptic connectivity has been reconstructed from electron micrographs. The worm’s highly developed sense of smell and taste elicit strong innate behaviors, but also allow context-specific responses and experience-dependent learning. By mapping specific behaviors onto individual neurons, manipulating genes that are important for nervous system function, and monitoring the activity of neurons during behavior, the lab explores how environmental variation and genetic variation converge to generate flexible behaviors.


Genetic variation, internal states, and environmental cues converge on shared neuronal circuits to regulate behaviors. In the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, an anatomical wiring diagram provides an essential map for innate behaviors, such as preferences for specific stimuli. Superimposed on this detailed circuit diagram are neuromodulators reflecting internal states, which help select appropriate behavioral responses from a larger number of latent circuits, and lead to both rapid and long-lasting changes in behavior. Dr. Bargmann will discuss a neuromodulatory circuit that generates long-lasting behavioral states through two conserved neuromodulators, serotonin and a neuropeptide. The neurons that produce and respond to each neuromodulator form a distributed circuit orthogonal to the classical wiring diagram. The temporal dynamics of this neuromodulatory circuit supplement fast motor circuits to initiate and maintain long-lasting behavioral states.

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