Biological Determinants of Reinforcement - Vol. 7

By Michael L. Commons; Russell M. Church et al. | Go to book overview

10 Causal Detection in a Mollusc: Cellular Mechanisms of Predictive Coding, Associative Learning, and Memory

Joseph Farley Program in Neuroscience and Behavior, Princeton University

For several years, I have been concerned with developing an invertebrate model system that would permit a cellular analysis of a biological causal detection system. Inevitably, this compelled my colleagues and me to consider the roles that associative learning and memory play in causal detection systems and to attempt to elucidate the cellular mechanisms underlying such processes. The system we have chosen is the nudibranch mollusc Hermissenda crassicornis. The goal of the present chapter is to summarize our understanding of the cellular basis of associative learning in Hermissenda and to then extend this perspective to some more interesting and complex causal detection processes. In what follows, I briefly review our current understanding of how associative learning occurs in this animal.

Hermissenda normally find light attractive; they will orient and locomote toward a source of illumination. This attraction to light (positive phototaxis) is reduced for many days following exposure to pairings of light and an aversive stimulus, high-speed rotation on a turntable. Pairings of light and rotation result in long-lasting neural changes in cells responsible for the initial stages of visual information processing: Type B and Type A photoreceptors. These changes result in decreased visually-evoked synaptic input to interneurons and motoneurons subserving phototactic behavior.

The long-lasting changes in the neural excitability of Type B photoreceptors are manifested as an enhanced light response. On days following associative training, Type B photoreceptors are more depolarized by light and initiate action potentials with greater frequency. These enhanced light responses arise from associatively produced reductions in two distinct K+ currents: IA (a fast, voltage-dependent current) and IK-Ca (a calcium activated K+ current). Reduction of

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