A gene-expression-based neural code for food abundance that modulates lifespan

Eugeni V. Entchev, Mei Zhan, Dhaval Patel, Andrew J. Steele, Hang Lu, QueeLim Ch'ng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)
198 Downloads (Pure)


How the nervous system internally represents environmental food availability is poorly understood. Here, we show that quantitative information about food abundance is encoded by combinatorial neuron-specific gene-expression of conserved TGFβ and serotonin pathway components in Caenorhabditis elegans. Crosstalk and auto-regulation between these pathways alters the shape, dynamic range, and population variance of the gene-expression responses of daf-7 (TGFβ) and tph-1 (tryptophan hydroxylase) to food availability. These intricate regulatory features provide distinct mechanisms for TGFβ and serotonin signaling to tune the accuracy of this multineuron code: daf-7 primarily regulates gene-expression variability, while tph-1 primarily regulates the dynamic range of gene-expression responses. This code is functional because daf-7 and tph-1 mutations bidirectionally attenuate food level-dependent changes in lifespan. Our results reveal a neural code for food abundance and demonstrate that gene expression serves as an additional layer of information processing in the nervous system to control long-term physiology.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere06259
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
Issue number0
Early online date12 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2015


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