Natural allelic variation modifies acute ethanol response phenotypes in wild strains of C. elegans

Marijke H. van Wijk, Andrew G. Davies, Mark G. Sterken, Laura D. Mathies, Elizabeth C. Quamme, Ginamari G. Blackwell, Joost A.G. Riksen, Jan E. Kammenga, Jill C. Bettinger*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Genetic variation contributes to the likelihood that an individual will develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Traditional laboratory studies in animal models have elucidated the molecular pharmacology of ethanol, but laboratory-derived genetic manipulations rarely model the naturally occurring genetic variation observed in wild populations. Rather, these manipulations are biased toward identifying genes of central importance in the phenotypes. Because changes in such genes can confer selective disadvantages, they are not ideal candidates for carrying AUD risk alleles in humans. We sought to exploit Caenorhabditis elegans to identify allelic variation existing in the wild that modulates ethanol response behaviors.
We tested the acute ethanol responses of four strains recently isolated from the wild (JU1511, JU1926, JU1931, and JU1941) and 41 multiparental recombinant inbred lines (mpRILs) derived from them. We assessed locomotion at 10, 30, and 50 min on low and high ethanol concentrations. We performed principal component analyses (PCA) on the different phenotypes, tested for transgressive behavior, calculated heritability, and determined the correlations between behavioral responses.
We observed a range of responses to ethanol across the strains. We detected a low-concentration locomotor activation effect in some of the mpRILs not seen in the laboratory wild-type strain. PCA showed different ethanol response behaviors to be independent. We observed transgressive behavior for many of the measured phenotypes and found that multiple behaviors were uncorrelated. The average broad-sense heritability for all phenotypes was 23.2%.
Genetic variation significantly affects multiple acute ethanol response behaviors, many of which are independent of one another. This suggests that the genetic variation captured by these strains likely affects multiple biological mechanisms through which ethanol acts. Further study of these strains may allow these distinct mechanisms to be identified.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1505-1517
JournalAlcoholism : Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number8
Early online date25 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


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