Presynaptic MAST kinase controls opposing postsynaptic responses to convey stimulus valence in Caenorhabditis elegans.
Presynaptic plasticity is known to modulate the strength of synaptic transmission. However, it remains unknown whether regulation in presynaptic neurons can evoke excitatory and inhibitory postsynaptic responses. We report here that the Caenorhabditis elegans homologs of MAST kinase, Stomatin, and Diacylglycerol kinase act in a thermosensory neuron to elicit in its postsynaptic neuron an excitatory or inhibitory response that correlates with the valence of thermal stimuli. By monitoring neural activity of the valence-coding interneuron in freely behaving animals, we show that the alteration between excitatory and inhibitory responses of the interneuron is mediated by controlling the balance of two opposing signals released from the presynaptic neuron. These alternative transmissions further generate opposing behavioral outputs necessary for the navigation on thermal gradients. Our findings suggest that valence-encoding interneuronal activity is determined by a presynaptic mechanism whereby MAST kinase, Stomatin, and Diacylglycerol kinase influence presynaptic outputs.