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1) Molecular and neuronal characterization of C. elegans escape behavior
Defining sensorimotor circuits requires detailed knowledge of the neural connectivity of the nervous system, and the ability to manipulate the functions of the component neurons and to define and quantify the behavioral outputs. The simplicity and completely defined synaptic connectivity of C. elegans nervous system provides unique opportunity to dissect how neural networks control behavior.
2) Identify genes involved in the processing, expression and subunit composition of voltage-gated calcium channels
The release of neurotransmitter from synaptic vesicles is critical for the propagation of signals that generate behavioral outputs. Voltage-gated calcium channels provide the calcium influx essential for synaptic vesicle exocytosis. We are characterizing mutants to identify new genes involved in the proper assembly, expression and trafficking of functional calcium channels.
3) Investigate the evolutionary origins of escape behavior
Nematophagous fungi employ a variety of strategies to capture worms. In predator-prey experiments, we have been able to show that the suppression of head movements allows the animal to escape from constricting traps. Further investigation of the neurobiology behind the escape from predation may provide insight into how this behavior evolves.
Mark Alkema, Ph.D.
University of Massachusetts Medical School
Department of Neurobiology, LRB 717
364 Plantation Street
Worcester, MA 01605 USA
phone: 508-856-6158 (office)
phone: 508-856-8541 (lab)