Artificial dirt: microfluidic substrates for nematode neurobiology and behavior

Lockery SR, Lawton KJ, Doll JC, Faumont S, Coulthard SM, Thiele TR, Chronis N, McCormick KE, Goodman MB, Pruitt BL

J. Neurophysiol. 2008 Jun;99(6):3136-43

PMID: 18337372


With a nervous system of only 302 neurons, the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a powerful experimental organism for neurobiology. However, the laboratory substrate commonly used in C. elegans research, a planar agarose surface, fails to reflect the complexity of this organism’s natural environment, complicates stimulus delivery, and is incompatible with high-resolution optophysiology experiments. Here we present a new class of microfluidic devices for C. elegans neurobiology and behavior: agarose-free, micron-scale chambers and channels that allow the animals to crawl as they would on agarose. One such device mimics a moist soil matrix and facilitates rapid delivery of fluid-borne stimuli. A second device consists of sinusoidal channels that can be used to regulate the waveform and trajectory of crawling worms. Both devices are thin and transparent, rendering them compatible with high-resolution microscope objectives for neuronal imaging and optical recording. Together, the new devices are likely to accelerate studies of the neuronal basis of behavior in C. elegans.