Five different neuron pairs have been identified as essential for the proper functioning of the thermotaxis circuit. These neurons contact many other neurons in the nerve ring, but form specific synaptic connections to assemble the thermotaxis behavioral circuit. Our previous studies focused on examining one such set of synapses: those between interneuron AIY and interneuron RIA. We are now continuing this work by determining the developmental events and molecular signals that direct the assembly of the rest of the thermotaxis behavioral circuit.
We are focusing on the different types of synapses formed between the presynaptic AIY and its postsynaptic partners. For instance, AIY innervates another major interneuron, AIZ, at a specific subcellular region of its axon that is distinct from the region where AIY innervates RIA. What are the molecular and cellular requirements for innervation of AIY to AIZ? How do they compare to the signals that direct innervation of AIY to RIA? How is the architectural specificity achieved? We are using the same basic approach to identify the molecular signals which direct innervation between AIY and AIZ