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Transcriptional Regulation Underlying Long-Term Sensitization in Aplysia  

Robert J. Calin-Jageman, Theresa Wilsterman, and Irina E. Calin-Jageman

The induction of a long-term memory requires both transcriptional change and neural plasticity. Many of the links between transcription and memory have been revealed through the study of long-term sensitization in the Aplysia genus of marine mollusks. Sensitization is a conserved, non-associative form of pain memory in which a painful stimulus produces an increase in arousal and defensive behavior. The neural circuits that help encode sensitization memory are well characterized, and sensitization can be simulated in neuronal cell cultures. One feature of sensitization in Aplysia is that only some training protocols initiate transcription and produce long-term memory; others produce only short-term memories. This occurs because the induction of long-term sensitization requires the activation of two signal-transduction pathways that regulate transcription: (a) a fast but transient activation of the cAMP/PKA pathway that activates the transcription factor CREB1 and (b) a delayed activation of the ERK isoform of MAPK that deactivates the transcriptional repressor CREB2. The effectiveness of different training protocols is based on the synchronization of these pathways. The cAMP/PKA and MAPK pathways are complex, involving extracellular and trans-synaptic signaling, feedback loops, and crosstalk. It has proven possible to model transcriptional activation with enough fidelity to generate in silico predictions for optimized learning, which has been validated in cell cultures and intact animals. Training protocols that successfully activate CREB1 while deactivating CREB2 produce a complex transcriptional cascade that helps encode long-term sensitization memory. The transcriptional cascade involves a focused wave of immediate-early transcriptional activations. This includes the activation of additional transcription factors, such as C/EBP, as well as effectors such as uch, sensorin, and tolloid/BMP-1. These early transcriptional changes close feedback loops that help extend and stabilize the early wave of transcriptional changes, triggering a broader late wave of transcriptional changes likely to alter neural signaling, increase protein production, transport mRNAs, and induce meta-plasticity. A small set of transcripts participate in both the early and late waves, and several of these (CREB1, synataxin, eIF4) play essential roles in completing the induction of long-term sensitization. Most transcriptional changes fade as sensitization memory is forgotten, but some changes persist beyond forgetting, including a long-lasting up-regulation of an inhibitory peptide transmitter that could foster forgetting. The maintenance of long-term sensitization may involve self-sustaining transcriptional feedback loops. In particular, CREB1 binds to its own promoter, producing a long-lasting increase in CREB1 mRNA, protein, and gene activation that is essential for sustaining cellular correlates of sensitization for at least 1 day after induction. Many aspects of the induction, stabilization, and maintenance of sensitization memory in Aplysia are conserved, suggesting that it will continue to be a fruitful, simpler system for understanding the physical basis of lasting memory.


Drosophila Reward Circuits  

John S. Hernandez, Tariq M. Brown, and Karla R. Kaun

The ability to sense and respond to a rewarding stimulus is a key advantage for animals in their natural environment. The circuits that mediate these responses are complex, and it has been difficult to identify the fundamental principles of reward structure and function. However, the well-characterized brain anatomy and sophisticated neurogenetic tools in Drosophila melanogaster make the fly an ideal model to understand the mechanisms through which reward is encoded. Drosophila find food, water, intoxicating substances, and social acts rewarding. Basic monoaminergic neurotransmitters, including dopamine (DA), serotonin (5-HT), and octopamine (OA), play a central role in encoding these rewards. DA is central to sensing, encoding, responding, and predicting reward, whereas 5-HT and OA carry information about the environment that influences DA circuit activity. In contrast, slower-acting neuromodulators such as hormones and neuropeptides play a key role in both encoding the pleasurable stimulus and modulating how the internal environment of the fly influences reward sensation and seeking. Recurring circuit motifs for reward signaling identified in Drosophila suggest that these key principles will help elucidate understanding of how reward circuits function in all animals.


The Insect Central Complex  

Stanley Heinze

The central complex (CX) is the only unpaired brain region of the insect brain. It is located at the interface of sensory processing and motor control and plays a vital role in context dependent action selection. The CX has four main tasks. First, the encoding of the insect’s orientation in space, i.e., the generation of an internal head direction signal based on both rotational self-motion and external sensory signals. Second, the generation of goal direction representations. Third, the selection of an appropriate goal direction based on context, internal state, and previous experience. And finally, the initiation of motor steering signals based on comparing heading direction and goal directions. The highly regular, almost crystalline neuroarchitecture of repeating computational elements provide the structural basis for these computations. These tight structure function relationships have revealed that the CX performs highly efficient, vector-based computations, in which vectors are encoded as sinusoidal activity patterns across populations of neurons. The deep insight into the computational algorithms implemented in this brain area have made the CX a prime model system to study the neural basis of context-dependent action selection and behavioral decisions, as well as the mechanisms of circuit evolution.


Insect Color Vision  

Natalie Hempel de Ibarra and Misha Vorobyev

Color plays an important role in insect life—many insects forage on colorful flowers and/or have colorful bodies. Accordingly, most insects have multiple spectral types of photoreceptors in their eyes, which gives them the capability to see colors. However, insects cannot perceive colors in the same way as human beings do because their eyes and brains differ substantially. An insect was the first nonhuman animal whose ability to discriminate colors has been demonstrated - in the beginning of the 20th century, von Frisch showed that the honeybee, Apis mellifera, can discriminate blue from any shade of gray. This method, called the gray-card experiment, is an accepted “gold standard” for the proof of color vision in animals. Insect species differ in the combinations of photoreceptors in their eyes, with peak sensitivities in ultraviolet (UV) and/or blue, green, and sometimes red parts of the spectrum. The number of photoreceptor spectral types can be as little as one or two, as in the grasshopper Phlaeoba and the beetle Tribolium, and as many as 10 and more in some species of butterflies and dragonflies. However, not all spectral receptor types are necessarily used for color vison. For example, the butterfly Papilio xuthus uses only four of its eight photoreceptors for color vision. Some insects have separate channels for processing chromatic and achromatic (lightness) information. In the honeybee, the achromatic channel has high spatial resolution and is mediated only by long-wavelength sensitive, or “green,” photoreceptors alone, whereas the spatial resolution of chromatic vision is low and mediated by all three spectral types of photoreceptors. Whether other insects have a similar separation of chromatic and achromatic vision remains uncertain. In contrast to vertebrates, insects do not use distinct sets of photoreceptors for nocturnal vision, and some nocturnal insects can see color at night. Insect photoreceptors are inherently polarization sensitive because of their microvillar organization. Therefore, some insects cannot discriminate changes in polarization of light from changes in its spectral composition. However, many insects sacrifice polarization sensitivity to retain reliable color vision. For example, in the honeybee, polarization sensitivity is eliminated by twisting the rhabdom in most parts of its compound eye except for the dorsal rim area that is specialized in polarization vision. Insects experience color constancy and color-contrast phenomena. Although in humans these aspects of vision are often attributed to cortical processing of color, simple models based on photoreceptor adaptation may explain color constancy and color induction in insects. Color discriminations can be evaluated using a simple model, which assumes that it is limited by photoreceptor noise. This model can help to predict discrimination of colors that are ecologically relevant, such as flower colors for pollinating insects. However, despite the fact that many insects forage on flowers, there is no evidence that insect pollinator vision coevolved with flower colors. The diverse color vision in butterflies appears to adaptively facilitate the recognition of their wing colors.


Octopus Motor Control  

Nir Nesher, Guy Levy, Letizia Zullo, and Benyamin Hochner

The octopus, with its eight long and flexible arms, is an excellent example of the independent evolution of highly efficient motor behavior in a soft-bodied animal. Studies will be summarized to show that the amazing behavioral motor abilities of the octopus are achieved through a special embodied organization of its flexible body, unusual morphology, and a unique central and peripheral distribution of its extremely large nervous system. This special embodied organization of brain–body–environment reciprocal interactions makes it possible to overcome the difficulties involved in generation and control of movement in an animal, which unlike vertebrates and arthropods lacks rigid skeletal appendages.


Gastropod Learning and Memory (Aplysia, Hermissenda, Lymnaea, and Others)  

Alexis Bédécarrats and Romuald Nargeot

Euopisthobranchia (Aplysia), Nudipleura (Tritonia, Hermissenda, Pleurobranchaea), and Panpulmonata (Lymnaea, Helix, Limax) gastropod mollusks exhibit a variety of reflex, rhythmic, and motivated behaviors that can be modified by elementary forms of learning and memory. The relative simplicity of their nervous systems and behavioral repertoires has allowed the uncovering of processes of neuronal and synaptic plasticity underlying non-associative learning, such as habituation, sensitization, and different forms of associative learning, such as classical and operant conditioning. Decades of work on these simpler and accessible animal systems have almost uniquely yielded an understanding into the mechanistic basis of learning and memory spanning behavior, neuronal circuitry, and molecules. Given the conservative nature of evolutionary processes, the mechanisms deciphered have also provided valuable insights into the neural basis of learning and memory in other metazoans, including higher vertebrates.


Gastropod Feeding Systems: Evolution of Neural Circuits that Generate Diverse Behaviors  

Paul Benjamin and Michael Crossley

It is conceptually reasonable to explore how the evolution of behavior involves changes in neural circuitry. Progress in determining this evolutionary relationship has been limited in neuroscience because of difficulties in identifying individual neurons that contribute to the evolutionary development of behaviors across species. However, the results from the feeding systems of gastropod mollusks provide evidence for this concept of co-evolution because the evolution of different types of feeding behaviors in this diverse group of mollusks is mirrored by species-specific changes in neural circuitry. The evolution of feeding behaviors involves changes in the motor actions that allow diverse food items to be acquired and ingested. The evolution in neural control accompanies this variation in food and the associated changes in flexibility of feeding behaviors. This is present in components of the feeding network that are involved in decision making, rhythm generation, and behavioral switching but is absent in background mechanisms that are conserved across species, such as those controlling arousal state. These findings show how evolutionary changes, even at the single neuron level, closely reflect the details of behavioral evolution.


Rapid Adaptive Camouflage in Cephalopods  

Chuan-Chin Chiao and Roger T. Hanlon

Visual camouflage change is a hallmark of octopus, squid, and cuttlefish and serves as their primary defense against predators. They can change their total body appearance in less than a second due to one principal feature: every aspect of this sensorimotor system is neurally refined for speed. Cephalopods live in visually complex environments such as coral reefs and kelp forests and use their visual perception of backgrounds to rapidly decide which camouflage pattern to deploy. Counterintuitively, cuttlefish have evolved a small number of pattern designs to achieve camouflage: Uniform, Mottle, and Disruptive, each with variation. The expression of these body patterns is based on several fundamental scene features. In cuttlefish, there appear to be several “visual assessment shortcuts” that enable camouflage patterning change in as little as 125 milliseconds. Neural control of the dynamic body patterning of cephalopods appears to be organized hierarchically via a set of lobes within the brain, including the optic lobes, the lateral basal lobes, and the anterior/posterior chromatophore lobes. The motor output of the central nervous system (CNS) in terms of the skin patterns that are produced is under sophisticated neural control of chromatophores, iridophores, and three-dimensional skin papillae. Moreover, arm postures and skin papillae are also regulated visually for additional aspects of concealment. This coloration system, often referred to as rapid neural polyphenism, is unique in the animal kingdom and can be explained and interpreted in the context of sensory and behavioral ecology.


Caenorhabditis elegans Learning and Memory  

James S.H. Wong and Catharine H. Rankin

The nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), is an organism useful for the study of learning and memory at the molecular, cellular, neural circuitry, and behavioral levels. Its genetic tractability, transparency, connectome, and accessibility for in vivo cellular and molecular analyses are a few of the characteristics that make the organism such a powerful system for investigating mechanisms of learning and memory. It is able to learn and remember across many sensory modalities, including mechanosensation, chemosensation, thermosensation, oxygen sensing, and carbon dioxide sensing. C. elegans habituates to mechanosensory stimuli, and shows short-, intermediate-, and long-term memory, and context conditioning for mechanosensory habituation. The organism also displays chemotaxis to various chemicals, such as diacetyl and sodium chloride. This behavior is associated with several forms of learning, including state-dependent learning, classical conditioning, and aversive learning. C. elegans also shows thermotactic learning in which it learns to associate a particular temperature with the presence or absence of food. In addition, both oxygen preference and carbon dioxide avoidance in C. elegans can be altered by experience, indicating that they have memory for the oxygen or carbon dioxide environment they were reared in. Many of the genes found to underlie learning and memory in C. elegans are homologous to genes involved in learning and memory in mammals; two examples are crh-1, which is the C. elegans homolog of the cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB), and glr-1, which encodes an AMPA glutamate receptor subunit. Both of these genes are involved in long-term memory for tap habituation, context conditioning in tap habituation, and chemosensory classical conditioning. C. elegans offers the advantage of having a very small nervous system (302 neurons), thus it is possible to understand what these conserved genes are doing at the level of single identified neurons. As many mechanisms of learning and memory in C. elegans appear to be similar in more complex organisms including humans, research with C. elegans aids our ever-growing understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of learning and memory across the animal kingdom.


Cephalopod Nervous System Organization  

Z. Yan Wang and Clifton W. Ragsdale

Over 700 species of cephalopods live in the Earth’s waters, occupying almost every marine zone, from the benthic deep to the open ocean to tidal waters. The greatly varied forms and charismatic behaviors of these animals have long fascinated humans. Cephalopods are short-lived, highly mobile predators with sophisticated brains that are the largest among the invertebrates. While cephalopod brains share a similar anatomical organization, the nervous systems of coleoids (octopus, squid, cuttlefish) and nautiloids all display important lineage-specific neural adaptations. The octopus brain, for example, has for its arms a well-developed tactile learning and memory system that is vestigial in, or absent from, that of other cephalopods. The unique anatomy of the squid giant fiber system enables rapid escape in the event of capture. The brain of the nautilus comprises fewer lobes than its coleoid counterparts, but contains olfactory system structures and circuits not yet identified in other cephalopods.