Descending pathway facilitates undulatory wave propagation in Caenorhabditis elegans through gap junctions.
Abstract: Descending signals from the brain play critical roles in controlling and modulating locomotion kinematics. In the Caenorhabditis elegans nervous system, descending AVB premotor interneurons exclusively form gap junctions with the B-type motor neurons that execute forward locomotion. We combined genetic analysis, optogenetic manipulation, calcium imaging, and computational modeling to elucidate the function of AVB-B gap junctions during forward locomotion. First, we found that some B-type motor neurons generate rhythmic activity, constituting distributed oscillators. Second, AVB premotor interneurons use their electric inputs to drive bifurcation of B-type motor neuron dynamics, triggering their transition from stationary to oscillatory activity. Third, proprioceptive couplings between neighboring B-type motor neurons entrain the frequency of body oscillators, forcing coherent bending wave propagation. Despite substantial anatomical differences between the motor circuits of C. elegans and higher model organisms, converging principles govern coordinated locomotion.