A system for the high-throughput analysis of acute thermal avoidance and adaptation in C. elegans
Nociception and its plasticity are essential biological processes controlling adaptive behavioral responses in animals. These processes are also linked to different pain conditions in human and have received considerable attention, notably via studies in rodent models and the use of heat-evoked withdrawal behavior assays as a readout of unpleasant experience. More recently, invertebrates have also emerged as useful complementary models, with their own set of advantages, including their amenability to genetic manipulations, the accessibility and relative simplicity of their nervous system and ethical concerns linked to animal suffering. Like humans, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) can detect noxious heat and produce avoidance responses such as reversals. Here, we present a methodology suitable for the high-throughput analysis of C. elegans heat-evoked reversals and the adaptation to repeated stimuli. We introduce two platforms: the INFERNO (for infrared-evoked reversal analysis platform), allowing the quantification of the thermal sensitivity in a petri dish containing a large population (> 100 animals), and the ThermINATOR (for thermal adaptation multiplexed induction platform), allowing the mass-adaptation of up to 18 worm populations at the same time. We show that wild type animals progressively desensitize in response to repeated noxious heat pulses. Furthermore, analyzing the phenotype of mutant animals, we show that the mechanisms underlying baseline sensitivity and adaptation, respectively, are supported by genetically separable molecular pathways. In conclusion, the presented method enables the high-throughput evaluation of thermal avoidance in C. elegans and will contribute to accelerate studies in the field with this invertebrate model.
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