Aggregation is a social behavior that varies between and within species, providing a model to study the genetic basis of behavioral diversity. In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, aggregation is regulated by environmental context and by two neuromodulatory pathways, one dependent on the neuropeptide receptor NPR-1 and one dependent on the TGF-β family protein DAF-7. To gain further insight into the genetic regulation of aggregation, we characterize natural variation underlying behavioral differences between two wild-type C. elegans strains, N2 and CB4856. Using quantitative genetic techniques, including a survey of chromosome substitution strains and QTL analysis of recombinant inbred lines, we identify three new QTLs affecting aggregation in addition to the two known N2 mutations in npr-1 and glb-5. Fine-mapping with near-isogenic lines localized one QTL, accounting for 5%-8% of the behavioral variance between N2 and CB4856, 3′ to the transcript of the GABA neurotransmitter receptor gene exp-1. Quantitative complementation tests demonstrated that this QTL affects exp-1, identifying exp-1 and GABA signaling as new regulators of aggregation. exp-1 interacts genetically with the daf-7 TGF-β pathway, which integrates food availability and population density, and exp-1 mutations affect the level of daf-7 expression. Our results add to growing evidence that genetic variation affecting neurotransmitter receptor genes is a source of natural behavioral variation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology
- Cancer Research