"(phys.org May 16, 2012) For decades, scientists have studied Caenorhabditis elegans – tiny, transparent worms – to glean clues about how neurons develop and function. A new Harvard study suggests that the worms' nervous system is much more capable and complex than previously thought, and has a way to monitor its own motion, a model one day could serve to develop treatments for disorders like schizophrenia.
While most research into the worms' neurons has shown that each performs as a single functional unit, Yun Zhang, Associate Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Center for Brain Science, together with her colleagues Michael Hendricks, Heonick Ha and Nicolas Maffey, has uncovered evidence that, in some neurons, different compartments of a single neuron exhibit activities independently of each other. These local activities within the individual neurites represent self-motion signals and control movement. The work is described in a paper published on May 13 in Nature.
Such "compartmentalized" neural activity is typically only found in higher organisms; however, Zhang and her colleagues have now demonstrated that the simple unbranched axons of nematode neurons can also generate such compartmentalized local activity. In the interneurons that the researchers study, named RIA, the worms use these local activities to encode "corollary discharge" – a phenomenon in which motor neurons send a "copy" of a motor instruction back to the central nervous system – to monitor their body position and guide their movement about their environment. . ."