Hodgkinson-Hellwig Lab: Monoamine Neuromodulation and Adaptive Behaviour

It’s great to have the opportunity to introduce ourselves as one of the ‘new kids on the C elegans block’ and to tell you about our research interests, ideas and plans. I set up the lab about 9 months ago in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Ulm (Germany) with the generous support and enthusiasm of my Chair, Professor Wolfgang Kaschka.

The decision to work exclusively with C. elegans was a leap of faith. I had considered using other model systems but, in the end, it was clear to me that the wealth of technical expertise, depth of subject knowledge and the active participation of the C. elegans community, together with some truly outstanding resources, made C. elegans as a model system an obvious choice for our research.

I was joined by my colleague Isabelle Hellwig a few months later and together we established a small C. elegans research group at our lab in Ravensburg. Both of us are new to C. elegans research. I spent the last 25 years, mainly in London, working as a molecular biologist, except for a 4 year stay at the LMB in Cambridge working on the control of cell fate (this was also my first exposure to C. elegans research which was and still is based in the same department). Isabelle is a molecular biologist who comes fresh from her doctoral work on the transcription factor hoxA9 in haemopoietic stem cells to work with subjects that are only 1mm long!

It’s been a steep learning curve for both of us, nothing was pre-established in the lab, strains had to be ordered from the CGC, equipment bought, borrowed or made… a lot was made, techniques tried out….huge numbers of papers read through.

So, we are here, but what’s our focus?

We are based at a large psychiatric hospital in southern Germany within a unit that specializes in the treatment of mood disorders. An enduring hypothesis is that mood disorders are caused by changes to the brain’s monoamine signalling systems. Our research focuses on understanding how serotonergic and dopaminergic signalling pathways modulate mood.  We are using C. elegans to help us understand at the molecular level the interplay between serotonergic and dopaminergic signaling during adaptive behaviour.

We have lots of ideas about how we might tackle this ‘big question’ using C. elegans, but we have settled on two broad research questions at the moment;

1. How does C. elegans use dopaminergic signalling to ‘learn’ the most beneficial adaptive strategies?

2. How does C elegans use serotonergic and dopaminergic signalling to establish, maintain and, when necessary, to change adaptive behaviour?

Starting from scratch, it will take a while for us to generate data and papers, so please be patient. However, we are keen to discuss our ongoing (pre-publication) data with anyone in the C. elegans community that has similar interests, so please get in touch with us. More generally, we look forward in the future to many lively discussions with members of the C. elegans community about our work.


Steve Hodgkinson        steve.hodgkinson@uni-ulm.de

Isabelle Hellwig        isabelle.hellwig@uni-ulm.de

Wolfgang P Kaschka      wolfgang.kaschka@uni-ulm.de