Nictation, a dispersal behavior of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, is regulated by IL2 neurons

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 22 November 2013

This article has been updated


Many nematodes show a stage-specific behavior called nictation in which a worm stands on its tail and waves its head in three dimensions. Here we show that nictation is a dispersal behavior regulated by a specific set of neurons, the IL2 cells, in C. elegans. We established assays for nictation and showed that cholinergic transmission was required for nictation. Cell type–specific rescue experiments and genetic ablation experiments revealed that the IL2 ciliated head neurons were essential for nictation. Intact cilia in IL2 neurons, but not in other ciliated head neurons, were essential, as the restoration of the corresponding wild-type gene activity in IL2 neurons alone in cilia-defective mutants was sufficient to restore nictation. Optogenetic activation of IL2 neurons induced nictation, suggesting that signals from IL2 neurons are sufficient for nictation. Finally, we demonstrated that nictation is required for transmission of C. elegans to a new niche using flies as artificial carriers, suggesting a role of nictation as a dispersal and survival strategy under harsh conditions.

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Figure 1: Establishment of assays for nictation.
Figure 2: Acetylcholine neurotransmission is required for nictation.
Figure 3: IL2 neurons are required for nictation.
Figure 4: Intact cilia of IL2 neurons are required for nictation.
Figure 5: Activation of IL2 neurons induces nictation.

Change history

  • 10 August 2012

    In the version of this article initially published, the average durations for N2, cha-1(n2411) and cha-1(p503) shown in Figure 2b were incorrect because the n-values used to calculate them included cases in which no nictation was observed. The error has been corrected in the HTML and PDF versions of the article.

  • 22 November 2013

    Nat. Neurosci. 15, 107–112 (2012); published online 13 November 2011; corrected after print 10 August 2012 In the version of this article initially published, the average durations for N2, cha-1(n2411) and cha-1(p503) shown in Figure 2b (white bars) were incorrect because the n-values used to calculate them included cases in which no nictation was observed:


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This work was initiated when J.L. was at his sabbatical leave in M. Han's laboratory (University of Colorado at Boulder). The authors thank Y. Kohara (National Institute of Genetics, Japan) for cDNA clones, A. Fire (Stanford University) for vectors, the J. Yim laboratory and the C.K. Chung laboratory (Seoul National University) for providing flies for our experiment, A. Gottschalk (Goethe University) for the ChR2 plasmid, P. Sengupta (Brandeis University) for the daf-10 cDNA plasmid and the Caenorhabditis Genetics Center for C. elegans strains. This work was supported by Brain Research Center of the 21st Century Frontier Research Program, the World Class University program and Research Center for Functional Cellulomics. M.C. was supported by Hi Seoul Science Fellowship from the Seoul Scholarship Foundation.

Author information




H.L., M.C. and J.L. designed the study and wrote the paper; H.L., M.C. and D.L. performed experiments and analyzed the data; H.-s.K. performed the gauze test; H.H. and S.P. contributed to making the micro-dirt chip; H.-k.K. and Y.P. contributed to synthesizing pheromones. H.L. and M.C. contributed equally to the study. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Junho Lee.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Text and Figures

Supplementary Figures 1–20 and Supplementary Tables 1–5 (PDF 1446 kb)

Supplementary Movie 1

A movie showing a dauer nictating on cotton medical gauze. Scale bar, 200 μm. (WMV 1328 kb)

Supplementary Movie 2

A movie showing a dauer nictating on the micro-dirt chip. Scale bar, 100 μm. (WMV 1145 kb)

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Lee, H., Choi, Mk., Lee, D. et al. Nictation, a dispersal behavior of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, is regulated by IL2 neurons. Nat Neurosci 15, 107–112 (2012).

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