An image-free opto-mechanical system for creating virtual environments and imaging neuronal activity in freely moving Caenorhabditis elegans

Faumont S, Rondeau G, Thiele TR, Lawton KJ, McCormick KE, Sottile M, Griesbeck O, Heckscher ES, Roberts WM, Doe CQ, Lockery SR

PLoS ONE 2011;6(9):e24666

PMID: 21969859

Abstract

Non-invasive recording in untethered animals is arguably the ultimate step in the analysis of neuronal function, but such recordings remain elusive. To address this problem, we devised a system that tracks neuron-sized fluorescent targets in real time. The system can be used to create virtual environments by optogenetic activation of sensory neurons, or to image activity in identified neurons at high magnification. By recording activity in neurons of freely moving C. elegans, we tested the long-standing hypothesis that forward and reverse locomotion are generated by distinct neuronal circuits. Surprisingly, we found motor neurons that are active during both types of locomotion, suggesting a new model of locomotion control in C. elegans. These results emphasize the importance of recording neuronal activity in freely moving animals and significantly expand the potential of imaging techniques by providing a mean to stabilize fluorescent targets.