Integration of plasticity mechanisms within a single sensory neuron of C. elegans actuates a memory


Neural plasticity, the ability of a neuron to change its cellular properties in response to past experiences, underpins the nervous system’s capacity to form memories and actuate behaviors. How different plasticity mechanisms act together in vivo and at a cellular level to transform sensory information into behavior is not well understood. Here we show that in the nematode C. elegans two plasticity mechanisms, sensory adaptation and presynaptic plasticity, act within a single cell to encode thermosensory information and actuate a temperature-preference memory. Sensory adaptation enables the primary thermosensory neuron, AFD, to adjust the temperature range of its sensitivity to the local environment, thereby optimizing its ability to detect temperature fluctuations associated with migration. Presynaptic plasticity transforms this thermosensory information into a behavioral preference by gating synaptic communication between sensory neuron AFD and its postsynaptic partner, AIY. The gating of synaptic communication is regulated at AFD presynaptic sites by the conserved kinase nPKC epsilon Bypassing or altering AFD presynaptic plasticity predictably changes the learned behavioral preferences without affecting sensory responses. Our findings indicate that two distinct and modular neuroplasticity mechanisms function together within a single sensory neuron to encode multiple components of information required to enact thermotactic behavior. The integration of these plasticity mechanisms result in a single-cell logic system that can both represent sensory stimuli and guide memory-based behavioral preference.