Caenorhabditis elegans senses multiple environmental stimuli through sensory systems and rapidly changes its behaviors for survival. With a simple and well-characterized nervous system, C. elegans is a suitable animal model for studying behavioral plasticity.
Previous studies have shown acute neurodepressive effects of ethanol on multiple behaviors of C. elegans similar to the effect of ethanol on other organisms. Caenorhabditis elegans also develops ethanol tolerance during continuous exposure to ethanol. In mammals, chronic ethanol exposure leads to ethanol tolerance as well as increased ethanol consumption. Ethanol preference is associated with the development of tolerance and may lead to the development of ethanol dependence.
In this study, we show that C. elegans is a useful model organism for studying chronic effects of ethanol, including the development of ethanol preference. We designed a behavioral assay for testing ethanol preference after prolonged ethanol exposure. Despite baseline aversive responses to ethanol, animals show ethanol preference after 4 h of pre-exposure to ethanol and exhibit significantly enhanced preference for ethanol after a lifetime of ethanol exposure. The cat-2 and tph-1 mutant animals have defects in the synthetic enzymes for dopamine and serotonin, respectively. These mutants are deficient in the development of ethanol preference, indicating that dopamine and serotonin are required for this form of behavioral plasticity.