Sleep Analysis in Adult C. elegans Reveals State-Dependent Alteration of Neural and Behavioral Responses

Daniel E. Lawler, Yee Lian Chew, Josh D. Hawk, Ahmad Aljobeh, William R. Schafer, Dirk R. Albrecht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sleep, a state of quiescence associated with growth and restorative processes, is conserved across species. Invertebrates including the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans exhibit sleep-like states during development, satiety, and stress. Here, we describe behavior and neural activity during sleep and awake states in adult C. elegans hermaphrodites using new microfluidic methods. We observed effects of fluid flow, oxygen, feeding, odors, and genetic perturbations on long-term sleep behavior over 12 h. We developed a closed-loop sleep detection system to automatically deliver chemical stimuli to assess sleep-dependent changes to evoked neural responses in individual animals. Sleep increased the arousal threshold to aversive stimulation, yet the associated sensory neuron and first-layer interneuron responses were unchanged. This localizes adult sleep-dependent neuromodulation within interneurons presynaptic to the premotor interneurons, rather than afferent sensory circuits. However, sleep prolonged responses in appetitive chemosensory neurons, suggesting that sleep modulates responsiveness specifically across sensory systems rather than broadly damping global circuit activity.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Much is known about molecular mechanisms that facilitate sleep control. However, it is unclear how these pathways modulate neural circuit-level sensory processing or how misregulation of neural activity contributes to sleep disorders. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans provides the ability to study neural circuitry with single-neuron resolution, and recent studies examined sleep states between developmental stages and when stressed. Here, we examine an additional form of spontaneous sleep in adult C. elegans at the behavioral and neural activity levels. Using a closed-loop system, we show that delayed behavioral responses to aversive chemical stimulation during sleep arise from sleep-dependent sensorimotor modulation localized presynaptic to the premotor circuit, rather than early sensory circuits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1892-1907
Number of pages16
JournalJ. Neurosci.
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • arousal threshold
  • calcium imaging
  • closed-loop stimulation
  • microfluidics
  • sensory processing
  • sleep dynamics

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