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Journal Of Experimental Biology


Certain animal species utilize electric fields for communication, hunting and spatial orientation. Freshwater planarians move toward the cathode in a static electric field (cathodic electrotaxis). This planarian behavior was first described by Raymond Pearl more than a century ago. However, planarian electrotaxis has received little attention since, and the underlying mechanisms and evolutionary significance remain unknown. To close this knowledge gap, we developed an apparatus and scoring metrics for automated quantitative and mechanistic studies of planarian behavior upon exposure to a static electric field. Using this automated setup, we characterized electrotaxis in the planarian Dugesia japonica and found that this species responds to voltage instead of current, in contrast to results from previous studies using other planarian species. Surprisingly, we found differences in electrotaxis ability between small (shorter) and large (longer) planarians. To determine the cause of these differences, we took advantage of the regenerative abilities of planarians and compared electrotaxis in head, tail and trunk fragments of various lengths. We found that tail and trunk fragments electrotaxed, whereas head fragments did not, regardless of size. Based on these data, we hypothesized that signals from the head may interfere with electrotaxis when the head area/body area reached a critical threshold. In support of this hypothesis, we found that (1) smaller intact planarians that cannot electrotax have a relatively larger head-to-body-ratio than large planarians that can electrotax, and (2) the electrotaxis behavior of cut head fragments was negatively correlated with the head-to-body ratio of the fragments. Moreover, we could restore cathodic electrotaxis in head fragments via decapitation, directly demonstrating inhibition of electrotaxis by the head.


Dugesia japonica, Behavior, Galvanotaxis, Locomotion, Decapitation

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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