Background: Egg-laying behavior in the nematode C. elegans displays a distinct clustered temporal pattern: egg-laying events occur primarily in bursts or active phases, separated by inactive phases during which eggs are retained. The onset of the active phase can be modeled as a Poisson process with a time constant of approximately 20 minutes, while egg-laying events within an active phase occur with a faster time constant of approximately 20 seconds. Here we propose a cellular model for how the temporal pattern of egg-laying might be generated, based on genetic and cell-biological experiments and statistical analyses.Results: We suggest that the HSN neuron is the executive neuron driving egg-laying events. We propose that the VC neurons act as "single egg counters" that inhibit HSN activity for short periods in response to individual egg-laying events. We further propose that the uv1 neuroendocrine cells are "cluster counters", which inhibit HSN activity for longer periods and are responsible for the time constant of the inactive phase. Together they form an integrated circuit that drives the clustered egg-laying pattern.Conclusions: The detailed predictions derived from this model can now be tested by straightforward validation experiments. © 2010 Zhang et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.