UMMS Affiliation

Program in Innate Immunity, Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology; Department of Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology; Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

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Developmental Biology | Developmental Neuroscience | Digestive System | Immunity


Olfactory neurons allow animals to discriminate nutritious food sources from potential pathogens. From a forward genetic screen, we uncovered a surprising requirement for the olfactory neuron gene olrn-1 in the regulation of intestinal epithelial immunity in Caenorhabditis elegans. During nematode development, olrn-1 is required to program the expression of odorant receptors in the AWC olfactory neuron pair. Here, we show that olrn-1 also functions in AWC neurons in the cell non-autonomous suppression of the canonical p38 MAPK PMK-1 immune pathway in the intestine. Low activity of OLRN-1, which activates the p38 MAPK signaling cassette in AWC neurons during larval development, also de-represses the p38 MAPK PMK-1 pathway in the intestine to promote immune effector transcription, increased clearance of an intestinal pathogen, and resistance to bacterial infection. These data reveal an unexpected connection between olfactory receptor development and innate immunity and show that anti-pathogen defenses in the intestine are developmentally programmed.


AWC neurons, C. elegans, OLRN-1, immune homeostasis, intestinal immunity, olfactory neuron development, pathogen resistance

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Copyright 2020 The Author(s). This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

DOI of Published Version



Foster KJ, Cheesman HK, Liu P, Peterson ND, Anderson SM, Pukkila-Worley R. Innate Immunity in the C. elegans Intestine Is Programmed by a Neuronal Regulator of AWC Olfactory Neuron Development. Cell Rep. 2020 Apr 7;31(1):107478. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.03.042. PMID: 32268082. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Cell reports

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.