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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Identification of chemical synapses in the pharynx of Caenorhabditis elegans.

The rhythmic contraction of the Caenorhabditis elegans pharynx is unique in that the network of 12 neurons, including two M3 neurons, that regulate the contraction is known. The neurotransmitters secreted by these cells, and the target cells responding to these chemical signals, are not known. Here, we describe an approach to obtain this missing information and use the M3 cells as an example. Electrical recordings (electropharyngeograms) were used in conjunction with temporally and spatially defined application of neurotransmitters via photolysis of inactive, photolabile precursors. To illustrate the technique we used pharyngeal preparations in which the two M3 neurons are intact and preparations in which they were removed by laser irradiation. Removal of M3 neurons results in the loss of the small negative peaks in the electropharyngeograms and an increase in time during which the pharynx remains contracted. We demonstrate that the application of glutamate by photolysis of caged glutamate to a pharynx from which the two M3 neurons were removed produces effects similar to those observed before removal of the M3 neurons. In control experiments, photolytic release from photolabile precursors of carbamoylcholine, a stable and well characterized analog of acetylcholine, or of gamma-aminobutyric acid, from photolabile precursors did not have this effect. The response depended on the amount of glutamate released. By reducing the size of the photolytic beam, glutamate was released at several different locations of the pharynx. Two areas of the pharynx mainly respond to the application of glutamate; one corresponds to the pm4 muscle cells in the metacorpus, and the other to the junction between muscle cells pm5 in the isthmus and pm6 in the terminal bulb.[1]


  1. Identification of chemical synapses in the pharynx of Caenorhabditis elegans. Li, H., Avery, L., Denk, W., Hess, G.P. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. (1997) [Pubmed]
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