Published open access on BioSystems
Abstract: Understanding how biological organisms are autonomous—maintain themselves far from equilibrium through their own activities—requires understanding how they regulate those activities. In multicellular animals, such control can be exercised either via endocrine signaling through the vasculature or via neurons. In C. elegans this control is exercised by a well-delineated relatively small but distributed nervous system that relies on both chemical and electric transmission of signals. This system provides resources to integrate information from multiple sources as needed to maintain the organism. Especially important for the exercise of neural control are neuromodulators, which we present as setting agendas for control through more traditional electrical signaling. To illustrate how the C. elegans nervous system integrates multiple sources of information in controlling activities important for autonomy, we focus on feeding behavior and responses to adverse conditions. We conclude by considering how a distributed nervous system without a centralized controller is nonetheless adequate for autonomy.