How complex neural circuits form and how they function are major unsolved problems in neurobiology. We use the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to study these questions at the cellular and genetic levels. Connectivity in the C. elegans nervous system is determined by serial section electron microscopy. C. elegans is the only animal species for which the complete nervous system wiring diagram, now available for both male and hermaphrodite adults, is known, providing an unprecedented foundation for C. elegans neuroscience research.
Einstein has recently acquired state-of-the art capability for generating vastly improved electron microscopic datasets of serially sectioned neural tissue. With this facility, new connectomics data from larger volumes may be obtained with unprecedented speed. Current and future projects include reconstruction of additional connectomes of C. elegans from embryonic and larval stages and from mutants.
The C. elegans nervous system is a complex neural network. To understand how the patterns of connectivity are genetically specified, we make use of transgenes that express fluorescent proteins targeted to specific classes of synapses. We use these synapse-specific labels to identify mutants and genes that affect formation of particular cellular synaptic contacts. We are determining and analyzing the expression patterns of large numers of neural cell adhesion genes in the neural network that governs the mating behavior of the adult male. By correlating the expression of these molecular cell labels with connectivity, we hope to uncover the molecular code that determines wiring and identify the still elusive class of proteins that represent the molecular determinants of synaptic specificity.
Jarrell. T. A., Wang, Y., Bloniarz, A. E., Brittin, C. A., Xu, M., Thomson, J. N., Albertson, D. G., Hall, D. H., and Emmons, S. W. (2012) The connectome of a decision-making neural network. Science 337, 437-444. This paper was awarded the 2012-2013 AAAS NEWCOMB CLEVELAND PRIZE for the Most Outstanding Research Article Published in Science.
Emmons, S. W. (2012) The mood of a worm (Perspective). Science 338, 475-476.
Barrios, A., Ghosh, R., Fang, C., Emmons, S.W., and Barr, M.M. (2012) PDF-1 neuropeptide signaling modulates a neural circuit for mate-searching behavior in C. elegans. Nature Neuroscience 15, 1675-1682.
Xu, M., Jarrell, T.A., Wang, Y., Cook, S.J., Hall, D.H., and Emmons, S.W. (2013) Computer assisted assembly of connectomes from electron micrographs: application to Caenorhabditis elegans. PLoS ONE 8(1): e54050. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054050
Emmons, S.W. (2014). The development of sexual dimorphism: studies of the Caenorhabditis elegans male. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Developmental Biology 3, 239-262.
Desbois, M., Cook, S.J., Emmons, S.W., and Bülow, H.E. (2015). Directional Trans-Synaptic Labeling of Specific Neuronal Connections in Live Animals. Genetics, genetics. 115.177006.
Emmons, S.W. (2015). The beginning of connectomics: a commentary on White et al. (1986) ‘The structure of the nervous system of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans’. Phil Trans R Soc Lond B 370.
Sammut, M., Cook, S.J., Nguyen, K.C.Q., Felton, T., Hall, D.H., Emmons, S.W., Poole, R.J., and Barrios, A. (2015). Glia-derived neurons are required for sex-specific learning in C. elegans. Nature 526, 385-390.
Emmons, S.W. (2016). Chapter Seventeen - Connectomics, the Final Frontier. In Current Topics in Developmental Biology, M.W. Paul, ed. (Academic Press), pp. 315-330.
More Information About Dr. Scott Emmons
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Albert Einstein College of Medicine
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The Telegraph (UK) quotes Dr. Scott Emmons about his new Nature study that found male nematode worms have neurons that allow them to prioritize mating.
Nature.com interviews Dr. Scott Emmons about his study that determined the complete neural diagram that governs male roundworm mating behavior.