Copyright © 2020 the authors. Aversive learning is fundamental for animals to increase chances of survival. In addition to classical neurotransmitters, neuropeptides have emerged to modulate such complex behaviors. Among them, neuropeptide Y (NPY) is well known to promote aversive memory acquisition in mammals. Here we identify an NPY/neuropeptide F (NPF)-related neuropeptide system in Caenorhabditis elegans and show that this FLP-34/NPR-11 system is required for learning negative associations, a process that is reminiscent of NPY signaling in mammals. The Caenorhabditis elegans NPY/NPF ortholog FLP-34 displays conserved structural hallmarks of bilaterian-wide NPY/NPF neuropeptides. We show that it is required for aversive olfactory learning after pairing diacetyl with the absence of food, but not for appetitive olfactory learning in response to butanone. To mediate diacetyl learning and thus integrate the aversive food context with the diacetyl odor, FLP-34 is released from serotonergic neurons and signals through its evolutionarily conserved NPY/NPF GPCR, NPR-11, in downstream AIA interneurons. NPR-11 activation in the AIA integration center results in avoidance of a previously attractive stimulus. This study opens perspectives for a deeper understanding of stress conditions in which aversive learning results in excessive avoidance.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Aversive learning evolved early in evolution to promote avoidance of dangerous and stressful situations. In addition to classical neurotransmitters, neuropeptides are emerging as modulators of complex behaviors, including learning and memory. Here, we identified the evolutionary ortholog of neuropeptide Y/neuropeptide F in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, and we discovered that it is required for olfactory aversive learning. In addition, we elucidated the neural circuit underlying this avoidance behavior, and we discovered a novel coordinated action of Caenorhabditis elegans neuropeptide Y/neuropeptide F and serotonin that could aid in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying stress disorders in which excessive avoidance results in maladaptive behaviors.
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