Background: Most rhythmic motor behaviors in nature are episodic i.e. they alternate between different behavioral states, including quiescence. Electrophysiological studies in invertebrate behavioral switching, maintenance and quiescence have elucidated several neuronal mechanisms that generate a temporal pattern in behavior. However, the genetic bases of these processes are less well studied. We have previously uncovered a novel episodic behavior exhibited by C. elegans in liquid media where they alternate between distinct phases of rhythmic swimming and quiescence. Here, we have investigated the effect of several genes and their site of action on the behavioral quiescence exhibited in liquid by the nematode C. elegans.Results: We have previously reported that high cholinergic signaling promotes quiescence and command interneurons are critical for timing the quiescence bout durations. We have found that in addition to command interneurons, sensory neurons are also critical for quiescence. We show that the protein phosphatase calcineurin homolog tax-6 promotes swimming whereas the protein kinase G homolog egl-4 promotes quiescence. tax-6 expression in the sensory neurons is sufficient to account for its effect. egl-4 also acts in multiple sensory neurons to mediate its effect on quiescence. In addition our data is consistent with regulation of quiescence by egl-4 acting functionally downstream of release of acetylcholine (ACh) by motor neurons.Conclusions: Our study provides genetic evidence for mechanisms underlying the maintenance of a behavioral state operating at multiple neuronal levels through the activities of a kinase and a phosphatase. These results in a genetically tractable organism establish a framework for further dissection of the mechanism of quiescence during episodic behaviors.
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