Invertebrate Models of Nociception: Learning From Flies and Worms

Daniel Hesselson, Denise S. Walker, Joshua Neil Massingham, William R. Schafer, G Gregory Neely, Yee Lian Chew

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Chronic pain is a significant public health problem, affecting 20–25% of the global population, and there is a clear need for more specific and effective therapeutics. To achieve this, a comprehensive understanding of the underlying mechanisms and molecular machinery driving pain-related diseases is required. The definition of pain as an “unpleasant sensory and emotional experience” associated with tissue injury is innately anthropomorphic, the emotional element being difficult to reconcile in nonhuman organisms. Even simple invertebrates are nevertheless capable of nociception, the neural processing of noxious stimuli. With the significant advantages of simpler nervous systems, experimental tractability, and a high level of conservation, they have a major role to play in advancing our understanding. This chapter reviews our current molecular- and circuit-level understanding of nociception in two of the most widely used invertebrate experimental models, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and the fly Drosophila melanogaster. In particular, it summarizes the molecules, cells, and circuits that contribute to nociception in response to diverse noxious stimuli in these model organisms and the behavioral paradigms that we can harness to study them. The chapter discusses how mechanistic insights gained from these experimental systems can improve our understanding of pain in humans.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of the Neurobiology of Pain
EditorsJohn N. Wood
Place of PublicationUnited States of America
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages40
ISBN (Electronic)9780190860523
ISBN (Print)9780190860509
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • nociception
  • behavior
  • sensory transduction


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