Dissecting the mechanisms underlying attraction and repulsion to cat sensed cues: Worms and cats aren’t much different

Author Name(s)

Brianna Ramos

Faculty Advisor(s)

Gareth Harris


Organisms across the phyla are capable of sensing an array of sensory cues to control or shape complex behavioral responses needed to survive in an environment consisting of a multitude of attractive and repulsive cues. Mammalian systems extensively use olfactory (odor) and gustatory (taste) behavior to fine tune these sensory-dependent decision-making behaviors. Despite understanding the importance of behavioral responses to odor cues that shape behavior, the underlying mechanisms that mediate these responses, at the level of sensation, processing, integration and modulation of these sensory dependent responses are not fully understood. To understand these mechanisms, we use the invertebrate worm, C. elegans to characterize the attraction and repulsion to mammalian sensed odorant cues. Specifically, we are investigating if worms are attracted to catnip oil and repelled by cat repellent upon exposure. To do this, we used a chemotaxis behavioral assay that allowed us to examine and quantify worm’s locomotion to or away from an odor stimuli. In addition, to understand the neuronal connections of the worms ‘brain’ and the genes involved with these behaviors, we use a mutant analysis approach combined with behavioral examination. Using this behavioral assay in examining chemotaxis, we identified that worms are able to attract to catnip oil and repel from cat repellent. We focused on dissecting the neural circuits and molecular mechanisms involved in odor-guided behavior to these mammalian sense cues. We are currently investigating how the worm brain is able to process an attractive mammalian sensed cue. We do this by looking at g-proteins, ion channels, sensory neurons, interneurons, and neurotransmitters using a mutant analysis approach. In addition, we identified neurotransmitters, such as glutamate, that regulate attraction behavior to catnip oil cues as well as G-proteins and cyclic-nucleotide-gated ion channels. We therefore suggest C. elegans as a platform for studying olfactory-dependent pathways to attractive and repulsive cues. This allows characterization of the neural mechanisms that shape olfactory behavior and decision-making in higher systems using a more advantageous worm system.


3 thoughts on “Dissecting the mechanisms underlying attraction and repulsion to cat sensed cues: Worms and cats aren’t much different”

  1. Really great job, Brianna! I am especially impressed with how you are mapping the attraction step by step thru neurotransmitters, ion transport, receptors, etc. Also, your work with AVID is so important. My college students who have been through AVID are always noticeably well-organized, with growth mindset!

  2. Hi Brianna,
    Great presentation! Interesting topic and good explanation of the research question and experiments. The practical implications of your study were clearly described. Best wishes with your research!

  3. Great presentation Brianna! I’m really fascinated with your work using c. elegans to study sensory cues and in particular, using catnip as a stimulant. Keep up the great work!

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