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MIT Research News

December 20, 2018

Gut-brain connection signals worms to alter behavior while eating

Study may lead to a better understanding of the digestive tract’s nervous system.

Anne Trafton | MIT News Office

When a hungry worm encounters a rich food source, it immediately slows down so it can devour the feast. Once the worm is full, or the food runs out, it will begin roaming again.

A new study from MIT now reveals more detail about how the worm’s digestive tract signals the brain when to linger in a plentiful spot. The researchers found that a type of nerve cell found in the gut of the worm Caenorhabditis elegans is specialized to detect when bacteria are ingested; once that occurs, the neurons release a neurotransmitter that signals the brain to halt locomotion. The researchers also identified new ion channels that operate in this specialized nerve cell to detect bacteria.