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Douglas K. Reilly and Jagan Srinivasan

To survive, animals must properly sense their surrounding environment. The types of sensation that allow for detecting these changes can be categorized as tactile, thermal, aural, or olfactory. Olfaction is one of the most primitive senses, involving the detection of environmental chemical cues. Organisms must sense and discriminate between abiotic and biogenic cues, necessitating a system that can react and respond to changes quickly. The nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, offers a unique set of tools for studying the biology of olfactory sensation. The olfactory system in C. elegans is comprised of 14 pairs of amphid neurons in the head and two pairs of phasmid neurons in the tail. The male nervous system contains an additional 89 neurons, many of which are exposed to the environment and contribute to olfaction. The cues sensed by these olfactory neurons initiate a multitude of responses, ranging from developmental changes to behavioral responses. Environmental cues might initiate entry into or exit from a long-lived alternative larval developmental stage (dauer), or pheromonal stimuli may attract sexually mature mates, or repel conspecifics in crowded environments. C. elegans are also capable of sensing abiotic stimuli, exhibiting attraction and repulsion to diverse classes of chemicals. Unlike canonical mammalian olfactory neurons, C. elegans chemosensory neurons express more than one receptor per cell. This enables detection of hundreds of chemical structures and concentrations by a chemosensory nervous system with few cells. However, each neuron detects certain classes of olfactory cues, and, combined with their synaptic pathways, elicit similar responses (i.e., aversive behaviors). The functional architecture of this chemosensory system is capable of supporting the development and behavior of nematodes in a manner efficient enough to allow for the genus to have a cosmopolitan distribution.


Quentin Gaudry and Jonathan Schenk

Olfactory systems are tasked with converting the chemical environment into electrical signals that the brain can use to optimize behaviors such as navigating towards resources, finding mates, or avoiding danger. Drosophila melanogaster has long served as a model system for several attributes of olfaction. Such features include sensory coding, development, and the attempt to link sensory perception to behavior. The strength of Drosophila as a model system for neurobiology lies in the myriad of genetic tools made available to the experimentalist, and equally importantly, the numerical reduction in cell numbers within the olfactory circuit. Modern techniques have recently made it possible to target nearly all cell types in the antennal lobe to directly monitor their physiological activity or to alter their expression of endogenous proteins or transgenes.


Nathaniel J. Himmel, Atit A. Patel, and Daniel N. Cox

Nociception is a protective mechanism that mediates behavioral responses to a range of potentially damaging stimuli, including noxious temperature, chemicals, and mechanical stimulation. Nociceptive mechanisms are found throughout metazoans. Noxious stimuli are transduced by specialized, high-threshold peripheral nociceptors, which fire action potentials to elicit adaptive behavioral responses. Nociception is essential for survival and provides a mechanism for sensory perception of noxious stimuli, which alerts the organism to potential environmental dangers. When coupled with pain sensation and complex behavioral responses, this mechanism protects the organism from incipient damage. Moreover, acute and chronic pain may manifest as altered nociception in neuropathic pain states. Elucidating the neural bases of nociception is therefore important for identifying and implementing novel strategies for the treatment of neuropathic pain, as well as uncovering the mechanistic bases by which the nervous system integrates information to produce specific behaviors in response to a range of noxious stimuli. Invertebrate organisms, such as Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans, have emerged as powerful, genetically tractable platforms for exploring these questions. Here, we concisely review the current state of knowledge regarding the cells, molecules, neural circuits, and behaviors associated with invertebrate nociception in the fruit fly and nematode worm.