Feeding behavior of Aplysia: A model system for comparing cellular mechanisms of classical and operant conditioning

  • Baxter D
  • Byrne J
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Feeding behavior of Aplysia provides an excellent model system for analyzing and comparing mechanisms underlying appetitive classical conditioning and reward operant conditioning. Behavioral protocols have been developed for both forms of associative learning, both of which increase the occurrence of biting following training. Because the neural circuitry that mediates the behavior is well characterized and amenable to detailed cellular analyses, substantial progress has been made toward a comparative analysis of the cellular mechanisms underlying these two forms of associative learning. Both forms of associative learning use the same reinforcement pathway (the esophageal nerve, En) and the same reinforcement transmitter (dopamine, DA). In addition, at least one cellular locus of plasticity (cell B51) is modified by both forms of associative learning. However, the two forms of associative learning have opposite effects on B51. Classical conditioning decreases the excitability of B51, whereas operant conditioning increases the excitability of B51. Thus, the approach of using two forms of associative learning to modify a single behavior, which is mediated by an analytically tractable neural circuit, is revealing similarities and differences in the mechanisms that underlie classical and operant conditioning.

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  • Douglas A. Baxter

  • John H. Byrne

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