Whole-organism behavioral profiling reveals a role for dopamine in state-dependent motor program coupling in C. elegans


Animal behaviors are commonly organized into long-lasting states that coordinately impact the generation of diverse motor outputs such as feeding, locomotion, and grooming. However, the neural mechanisms that coordinate these diverse motor programs remain poorly understood. Here, we examine how the distinct motor programs of the nematode textitC. elegans are coupled together across behavioral states. We describe a new imaging platform that permits automated, simultaneous quantification of each of the main textitC. elegans motor programs over hours or days. Analysis of these whole-organism behavioral profiles shows that the motor programs coordinately change as animals switch behavioral states. Utilizing genetics, optogenetics, and calcium imaging, we identify a new role for dopamine in coupling locomotion and egg-laying together across states. These results provide new insights into how the diverse motor programs throughout an organism are coordinated and suggest that neuromodulators like dopamine can couple motor circuits together in a state-dependent manner.