Swimming Induced Paralysis to Assess Dopamine Signaling in Caenorhabditis Elegans

This article has been accepted and is currently in production


The swimming assay described in this protocol is a valid tool to identify proteins regulating the dopaminergic synapses. Similar to mammals, dopamine (DA) controls several functions in C. elegans including learning and motor activity. Conditions that stimulate DA release (e.g., amphetamine (AMPH) treatments) or that prevent DA clearance (e.g., animals lacking the DA transporter (dat-1) which are incapable of reaccumulating DA into the neurons) generate an excess of extracellular DA ultimately resulting in inhibited locomotion. This behavior is particularly evident when animals swim in water. In fact, while wild-type animals continue to swim for an extended period, dat-1 null mutants and wild-type treated with AMPH or inhibitors of the DA transporter sink to the bottom of the well and do not move. This behavior is termed "Swimming Induced Paralysis" (SWIP). Although the SWIP assay is well established, a detailed description of the method is lacking. Here, we describe a step-by-step guide to perform SWIP. To perform the assay, late larval stage-4 animals are placed in a glass spot plate containing control sucrose solution with or without AMPH. Animals are scored for their swimming behavior either manually by visualization under a stereoscope or automatically by recording with a camera mounted on the stereoscope. Videos are then analyzed using a tracking software, which yields a visual representation of thrashing frequency and paralysis in the form of heat maps. Both the manual and automated systems guarantee an easily quantifiable readout of the animals' swimming ability and thus facilitate screening for animals bearing mutations within the dopaminergic system or for auxiliary genes. In addition, SWIP can be used to elucidate the mechanism of action of drugs of abuse such as AMPH.