Synthetic ablations in the C. elegans nervous system
Synthetic lethality, the finding that the simultaneous knockout of two or more individually nonessential genes leads to cell or organism death, has offered a systematic framework to explore cellular function, and also offered therapeutic applications. Yet the concept lacks its parallel in neuroscience—a systematic knowledge base on the role of double or higher order ablations in the functioning of a neural system. Here, we use the framework of network control to systematically predict the effects of ablating neuron pairs and triplets on the gentle touch response. We find that surprisingly small sets of 58 pairs and 46 triplets can reduce muscle controllability in this context, and that these sets are localized in the nervous system in distinct groups. Further, they lead to highly specific experimentally testable predictions about mechanisms of loss of control, and which muscle cells are expected to experience this loss.