Planarian Scrunching As A Quantitative Behavioral Readout For Noxious Stimuli Sensing

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Freshwater planarians normally glide smoothly through ciliary propulsion on their ventral side. Certain environmental conditions, however, can induce musculature-driven forms of locomotion: peristalsis or scrunching. While peristalsis results from a ciliary defect, scrunching is independent of cilia function and is a specific response to certain stimuli, including amputation, noxious temperature, extreme pH, and ethanol. Thus, these two musculature-driven gaits are mechanistically distinct. However, they can be difficult to distinguish qualitatively. Here, we provide a protocol for inducing scrunching using various physical and chemical stimuli. We detail the quantitative characterization of scrunching, which can be used to distinguish it from peristalsis and gliding, using freely available software. Since scrunching is a universal planarian gait, albeit with characteristic species-specific differences, this protocol can be broadly applied to all species of planarians, when using appropriate considerations. To demonstrate this, we compare the response of the two most popular planarian species used in behavioral research, Dugesia japonica and Schmidtea mediterranea, to the same set of physical and chemical stimuli. Furthermore, the specificity of scrunching allows this protocol to be used in conjunction with RNA interference and/or pharmacological exposure to dissect the molecular targets and neuronal circuits involved, potentially providing mechanistic insight into important aspects of nociception and neuromuscular communication.

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