skip to main content

Title: The Makorin lep-2 and the lncRNA lep-5 regulate lin-28 to schedule sexual maturation of the C. elegans nervous system
Most animals develop from juveniles, which cannot reproduce, to sexually mature adults. The most obvious signs of this transition are changes in body shape and size. However, changes also take place in the brain that enable the animals to adapt their behavior to the demands of adulthood. For example, fully fed adult male roundworms will leave a food source to search for mates, whereas juvenile males will continue feeding. The transition to sexual maturity needs to be carefully timed. Too early, and the animal risks compromising key stages of development. Too late, and the animal may be less competitive in the quest for reproductive success. Cues in the environment, such as the presence of food and mates, interact with timing mechanisms in the brain to trigger sexual maturity. But how these mechanisms work – in particular where and how an animal keeps track of its developmental stage – is not well understood. In the roundworm species Caenorhabditis elegans, waves of gene activity, known collectively as the heterochronic pathway, determine patterns of cell growth as animals mature. Through further studies of these worms, Lawson et al. now show that these waves also control the time at which neural circuits mature. In more » addition, the waves of activity occur inside the nervous system itself, rather than in a tissue that sends signals to the nervous system. Moreover, they occur independently inside many different neurons. Each neuron thus has its own molecular clock for keeping track of development. Several of the genes critical for developmental timekeeping in worms are also found in mammals, including two genes that help to control when puberty starts in humans. If one of these genes – called MKRN3 – does not work correctly, it can lead to a condition that causes individuals to go through puberty several years earlier than normal. Studying the mechanisms identified in roundworms may help us to better understand this disorder. More generally, future work that builds on the results presented by Lawson et al. will help to reveal how environmental cues and gene activity interact to control when we become adults. « less
Authors:
; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1656736
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10132862
Journal Name:
eLife
Volume:
8
ISSN:
2050-084X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. BACKGROUND Charles Darwin’s  Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex  tackled the two main controversies arising from the Origin of Species:  the evolution of humans from animal ancestors and the evolution of sexual ornaments. Most of the book focuses on the latter, Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. Research since supports his conjecture that songs, perfumes, and intricate dances evolve because they help secure mating partners. Evidence is overwhelming for a primary role of both male and female mate choice in sexual selection—not only through premating courtship but also through intimate interactions during and long after mating. But what makes one prospective mate more enticing than another? Darwin, shaped by misogyny and sexual prudery, invoked a “taste for the beautiful” without speculating on the origin of the “taste.” How to explain when the “final marriage ceremony” is between two rams? What of oral sex in bats, cloacal rubbing in bonobos, or the sexual spectrum in humans, all observable in Darwin’s time? By explaining desire through the lens of those male traits that caught his eyes and those of his gender and culture, Darwin elided these data in his theory of sexual evolution. Work since Darwin has focused on howmore »traits and preferences coevolve. Preferences can evolve even if attractive signals only predict offspring attractiveness, but most attention has gone to the intuitive but tenuous premise that mating with gorgeous partners yields vigorous offspring. By focusing on those aspects of mating preferences that coevolve with male traits, many of Darwin’s influential followers have followed the same narrow path. The sexual selection debate in the 1980s was framed as “good genes versus runaway”: Do preferences coevolve with traits because traits predict genetic benefits, or simply because they are beautiful? To the broader world this is still the conversation. ADVANCES Even as they evolve toward ever-more-beautiful signals and healthier offspring, mate-choice mechanisms and courter traits are locked in an arms race of coercion and resistance, persuasion and skepticism. Traits favored by sexual selection often do so at the expense of chooser fitness, creating sexual conflict. Choosers then evolve preferences in response to the costs imposed by courters. Often, though, the current traits of courters tell us little about how preferences arise. Sensory systems are often tuned to nonsexual cues like food, favoring mating signals resembling those cues. And preferences can emerge simply from selection on choosing conspecifics. Sexual selection can therefore arise from chooser biases that have nothing to do with ornaments. Choice may occur before mating, as Darwin emphasized, but individuals mate multiple times and bias fertilization and offspring care toward favored partners. Mate choice can thus occur in myriad ways after mating, through behavioral, morphological, and physiological mechanisms. Like other biological traits, mating preferences vary among individuals and species along multiple dimensions. Some of this is likely adaptive, as different individuals will have different optimal mates. Indeed, mate choice may be more about choosing compatible partners than picking the “best” mate in the absolute sense. Compatibility-based choice can drive or reinforce genetic divergence and lead to speciation. The mechanisms underlying the “taste for the beautiful” determine whether mate choice accelerates or inhibits reproductive isolation. If preferences are learned from parents, or covary with ecological differences like the sensory environment, then choice can promote genetic divergence. If everyone shares preferences for attractive ornaments, then choice promotes gene flow between lineages. OUTLOOK Two major trends continue to shift the emphasis away from male “beauty” and toward how and why individuals make sexual choices. The first integrates neuroscience, genomics, and physiology. We need not limit ourselves to the feathers and dances that dazzled Darwin, which gives us a vastly richer picture of mate choice. The second is that despite persistent structural inequities in academia, a broader range of people study a broader range of questions. This new focus confirms Darwin’s insight that mate choice makes a primary contribution to sexual selection, but suggests that sexual selection is often tangential to mate choice. This conclusion challenges a persistent belief with sinister roots, whereby mate choice is all about male ornaments. Under this view, females evolve to prefer handsome males who provide healthy offspring, or alternatively, to express flighty whims for arbitrary traits. But mate-choice mechanisms also evolve for a host of other reasons Understanding mate choice mechanisms is key to understanding how sexual decisions underlie speciation and adaptation to environmental change. New theory and technology allow us to explicitly connect decision-making mechanisms with their evolutionary consequences. A century and a half after Darwin, we can shift our focus to females and males as choosers, rather than the gaudy by-products of mate choice. Mate choice mechanisms across domains of life. Sensory periphery for stimulus detection (yellow), brain for perceptual integration and evaluation (orange), and reproductive structures for postmating choice among pollen or sperm (teal). ILLUSTRATION: KELLIE HOLOSKI/ SCIENCE« less
  2. Animals generate many different motor programs (such as moving, feeding and grooming) that they can alter in response to internal needs and environmental cues. These motor programs are controlled by dedicated brain circuits that act on specific muscle groups. However, little is known about how organisms coordinate these different motor programs to ensure that their resulting behavior is coherent and appropriate to the situation. This is difficult to investigate in large organisms with complex nervous systems, but with 302 brain cells that control 143 muscle cells, the small worm Caenorhabditis elegans provides a good system to examine this question. Here, Cermak, Yu, Clark et al. devised imaging methods to record each type of motor program in C. elegans worms over long time periods, while also dissecting the underlying neural mechanisms that coordinate these motor programs. This constitutes one of the first efforts to capture and quantify all the behavioral outputs of an entire organism at once. The experiments also showed that dopamine – a messenger molecule in the brain – links the neural circuits that control two motor programs: movement and egg-laying. A specific type of high-speed movement activates brain cells that release dopamine, which then transmits this information tomore »the egg-laying circuit. This means that worms lay most of their eggs whilst traveling at high speed through a food source, so that their progeny can be distributed across a nutritive environment. This work opens up the possibility to study how behaviors are coordinated at the level of the whole organism – a departure from the traditional way of focusing on how specific neural circuits generate specific behaviors. Ultimately, it will also be interesting to look at the role of dopamine in behavior coordination in a wide range of animals.« less
  3. Adolescents are known for taking risks, from driving too fast to experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Such behaviors tend to decrease as individuals move into adulthood. Most people in their mid-twenties have greater self-control than they did as teenagers. They are also often better at planning, sustaining attention, and inhibiting impulsive behaviors. These skills, which are known as executive functions, develop over the course of adolescence. Executive functions rely upon a series of brain regions distributed across the frontal lobe and the lobe that sits just behind it, the parietal lobe. Fiber tracts connect these regions to form a fronto-parietal network. These fiber tracts are also referred to as white matter due to the whitish fatty material that surrounds and insulates them. Cui et al. now show that changes in white matter networks have implications for teen behavior. Almost 950 healthy young people aged between 8 and 23 years underwent a type of brain scan called diffusion-weighted imaging that visualizes white matter. The scans revealed that white matter networks in the frontal and parietal lobes mature over adolescence. This makes it easier for individuals to activate their fronto-parietal networks by decreasing the amount of energy required. Cui et al. showmore »that a computer model can predict the maturity of a person's brain based on the energy needed to activate their fronto-parietal networks. These changes help explain why executive functions improve during adolescence. This in turn explains why behaviors such as risk-taking tend to decrease with age. That said, adults with various psychiatric disorders, such as ADHD and psychosis, often show impaired executive functions. In the future, it may be possible to reduce these impairments by applying magnetic fields to the scalp to reduce the activity of specific brain regions. The techniques used in the current study could help reveal which brain regions to target with this approach.« less
  4. Sex differences in the brain are prevalent throughout the animal kingdom and particularly well appreciated in the nematode C. elegans, where male animals contain a little studied set of 93 male-specific neurons. To make these neurons amenable for future study, we describe here how a multicolor reporter transgene, NeuroPAL, is capable of visualizing the distinct identities of all male specific neurons. We used NeuroPAL to visualize and characterize a number of features of the male-specific nervous system. We provide several proofs of concept for using NeuroPAL to identify the sites of expression of gfp-tagged reporter genes and for cellular fate analysis by analyzing the effect of removal of several developmental patterning genes on neuronal identity acquisition. We use NeuroPAL and its intrinsic cohort of more than 40 distinct differentiation markers to show that, even though male-specific neurons are generated throughout all four larval stages, they execute their terminal differentiation program in a coordinated manner in the fourth larval stage. This coordinated wave of differentiation, which we call “just-in-time" differentiation, couples neuronal maturation programs with the appearance of sexual organs.
  5. Abstract

    Developmental experiences play critical roles in shaping adult physiology and behavior. We and others previously showed that adult Caenorhabditiselegans which transiently experienced dauer arrest during development (postdauer) exhibit distinct gene expression profiles as compared to control adults which bypassed the dauer stage. In particular, the expression patterns of subsets of chemoreceptor genes are markedly altered in postdauer adults. Whether altered chemoreceptor levels drive behavioral plasticity in postdauer adults is unknown. Here, we show that postdauer adults exhibit enhanced attraction to a panel of food-related attractive volatile odorants including the bacterially produced chemical diacetyl. Diacetyl-evoked responses in the AWA olfactory neuron pair are increased in both dauer larvae and postdauer adults, and we find that these increased responses are correlated with upregulation of the diacetyl receptor ODR-10 in AWA likely via both transcriptional and posttranscriptional mechanisms. We show that transcriptional upregulation of odr-10 expression in dauer larvae is in part mediated by the DAF-16 FOXO transcription factor. Via transcriptional profiling of sorted populations of AWA neurons from control and postdauer animals, we further show that the expression of a subset of additional chemoreceptor genes in AWA is regulated similarly to odr-10 in postdauer animals. Our results suggest that developmental experiencesmore »may be encoded at the level of olfactory receptor regulation, and provide a simple mechanism by which C. elegans is able to precisely modulate its behavioral preferences as a function of its current and past experiences.

    « less