Male pheromones modulate synaptic transmission at the C. elegans neuromuscular junction in a sexually dimorphic manner

Kang Ying Qian, Wan Xin Zeng, Yue Hao, Xian Ting Zeng, Haowen Liu, Lei Li, Lili Chen, Fu min Tian, Cindy Chang, Qi Hall, Chun Xue Song, Shangbang Gao, Zhi Tao Hu, Joshua M. Kaplan, Qian Li, Xia Jing Tong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The development of functional synapses in the nervous system is important for animal physiology and behaviors, and its disturbance has been linked with many neurodevelopmental disorders. The synaptic transmission efficacy can be modulated by the environment to accommodate external changes, which is crucial for animal reproduction and survival. However, the underlying plasticity of synaptic transmission remains poorly understood. Here we show that in C. elegans, the male environment increases the hermaphrodite cholinergic transmission at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), which alters hermaphrodites’ locomotion velocity and mating efficiency. We identify that the male-specific pheromones mediate this synaptic transmission modulation effect in a developmental stage-dependent manner. Dissection of the sensory circuits reveals that the AWB chemosensory neurons sense those male pheromones and further transduce the information to NMJ using cGMP signaling. Exposure of hermaphrodites to the male pheromones specifically increases the accumulation of presynaptic CaV2 calcium channels and clustering of postsynaptic acetylcholine receptors at cholinergic synapses of NMJ, which potentiates cholinergic synaptic transmission. Thus, our study demonstrates a circuit mechanism for synaptic modulation and behavioral flexibility by sexual dimorphic pheromones.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere67170
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Acetylcholine receptor
  • CaV2 calcium channel
  • Chemosensory neuron
  • Neuromuscular junction (NMJ)
  • Pheromone
  • Sexual dimorphism
  • Synaptic transmission


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