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  1. Animals must weigh competing needs and states to generate adaptive behavioral responses to the environment. Sensorimotor circuits are thus tasked with integrating diverse external and internal cues relevant to these needs to generate context-appropriate behaviors. However, the mechanisms that underlie this integration are largely unknown. Here, we show that a wide range of states and stimuli converge upon a single Caenorhabditis elegans olfactory neuron to modulate food-seeking behavior. Using an unbiased ribotagging approach, we find that the expression of olfactory receptor genes in the AWA olfactory neuron is influenced by a wide array of states and stimuli, including feeding state, physiological stress, and recent sensory cues. We identify odorants that activate these state-dependent olfactory receptors and show that altered expression of these receptors influences food-seeking and foraging. Further, we dissect the molecular and neural circuit pathways through which external sensory information and internal nutritional state are integrated by AWA. This reveals a modular organization in which sensory and state-related signals arising from different cell types in the body converge on AWA and independently control chemoreceptor expression. The synthesis of these signals by AWA allows animals to generate sensorimotor responses that reflect the animal’s overall state. Our findings suggest a general model in which sensory- and state-dependent transcriptional changes at the sensory periphery modulate animals’ sensorimotor responses to meet their ongoing needs and states. 
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  2. To adapt to their environments, animals must generate behaviors that are closely aligned to a rapidly changing sensory world. However, behavioral states such as foraging or courtship typically persist over long time scales to ensure proper execution. It remains unclear how neural circuits generate persistent behavioral states while maintaining the flexibility to select among alternative states when the sensory context changes. Here, we elucidate the functional architecture of a neural circuit controlling the choice between roaming and dwelling states, which underlie exploration and exploitation during foraging in C. elegans . By imaging ensemble-level neural activity in freely moving animals, we identify stereotyped changes in circuit activity corresponding to each behavioral state. Combining circuit-wide imaging with genetic analysis, we find that mutual inhibition between two antagonistic neuromodulatory systems underlies the persistence and mutual exclusivity of the neural activity patterns observed in each state. Through machine learning analysis and circuit perturbations, we identify a sensory processing neuron that can transmit information about food odors to both the roaming and dwelling circuits and bias the animal towards different states in different sensory contexts, giving rise to context-appropriate state transitions. Our findings reveal a potentially general circuit architecture that enables flexible, sensory-driven control of persistent behavioral states. 
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