Bryant Cruz, Alec Delong, and Dr. Gareth Harris
Organisms across the phyla are capable of sensing an array of sensory cues to control or shape complex behavioral responses to survive in a complex environment consisting of an array of attractive and repulsive dangerous cues. Mammalian systems extensively use olfactory and gustatory behavior to fine tune these sensory-dependent decision-making behaviors. Despite understanding the importance of behavioral responses to cues in the form of odors in shaping decision-making 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 attraction to mammalian sensed odorant cues. We show that hermaphrodite worms are attracted to catnip oil cues and identify select sensory mechanisms that mediate this attraction, identifying multiple sensory genes (molecular substrates) that are involved in this chemosensory response to a mammalian sensed cue, that is highly attractive in many cats. We have identified sensory transduction mechanisms, including G-proteins, and cyclic nucleotide-gated ion channels, that regulate odor-dependent attraction to mammalian sensed catnip oil cues. We therefore provide a platform to use C. elegans as a model for studying olfactory-dependent pathways to mammalian cues. This allows characterization of the neural mechanisms that shape olfactory behavior and decision-making in higher systems.