Peptidergic signaling controls the dynamics of sickness behavior in Caenorhabditis elegans
Pathogenic infection elicits sickness behaviors that promote recovery and survival of the host. For example, following infection with the pathogenic bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa PA14, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans modifies its sensory preferences to avoid the pathogen. Here we identify antagonistic neuromodulatory circuits that shape this sickness behavior. Using an unbiased cell-directed neuropeptide screen, we show that AVK neurons upregulate and release FMRFamide-like FLP-1 neuropeptides during infection to drive pathogen avoidance. Manipulations that increase or decrease AVK signaling accelerate or delay pathogen avoidance, respectively, implicating AVK in the dynamics of sickness behavior. FLP-1 neuropeptides act via the G-protein-coupled receptor DMSR-7 in RIM/RIC neurons to reduce tyraminergic/octopaminergic signaling that opposes pathogen avoidance. RIM/RIC neurons relay parallel signals from neuropeptides and the cytokine TGF-β that represent internal and external regulators of pathogen avoidance. Our results demonstrate that antagonism between neuromodulatory systems results in slow, graded transitions between alternative behavioral states.