Biologists have mapped out the neural connections between each neuron and with organs in the worm Caenorhabditis elegans, in a study published in Nature on July 3. The connectomes trace 385 neurons in the male worm and 302 neurons in the hermaphrodite worm.
“It’s a major step toward understanding how neurons interact with each other to give rise to different behaviors,” says coauthor Scott Emmons, a developmental biologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, to The New York Times.
Previous research by Sydney Brenner’s group at the Salk Institute in the 1970s mapped the connectome of the hermaphrodite sex of C. elegans, but it was incomplete. “We just had fragments of the worm’s wiring,” says Emmons. This study adds the male connectome and provides more complete connections for both sexes. “The new connectomes provide much more comprehensive information than the old data sets did,” Aakanksha Singhvi of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who was not involved in the study tells the Times.
In future research, “the ability to link specific neurons with specific behaviors will. . . allow us to really establish the extent to which wired and wireless circuits contribute to specific behaviors,” Piali Sengupta of Brandeis University who was no involved with the study tells The Washington Post. For example, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder “may be connectopathies. That is, they’re due to abnormal or faulty or incorrect wiring somewhere in the nervous system,” says Emmons to the Post.
Experts say that they need more connectomes of C. elegans and other species. “We need to have many more examples of individual C. elegans,” says Douglas Portman of Rochester University who was not involved with the work to the Post.
Chia-Yi Hou is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.