Differential role of inhibition in habituation of two independent afferent pathways to a common motor output

Adam S. Bristol, Thomas J. Carew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many studies of the neural mechanisms of learning have focused on habituation, a simple form of learning in which a response decrements with repeated stimulation. In the siphon-elicited siphon withdrawal reflex (S-SWR) of the marine mollusk Aplysia, the prevailing view is that homosynaptic depression of primary sensory afferents underlies short-term habituation. Here we examined whether this mechanism is also utilized in habituation of the tail-elicited siphon withdrawal reflex (T-SWR), which is triggered by an independent, polysynaptic afferent pathway that converges onto the same siphon motor neurons (MNs). By using semi-intact preparations in which tail and/or siphon input to siphon MNs could be measured, we found that repeated tail stimuli administered in the presence of a reversible conduction block of the nerves downstream of the tail sensory neurons (SNs) completely abolished the induction of habituation. Subsequent retraining revealed no evidence of savings, indicating that the tail SNs and their immediate interneuronal targets are not the locus of plasticity underlying T-SWR habituation. The networks closely associated with the siphon MNs are modulated by cholinergic inhibition. We next examined the effects of network disinhibition on S-SWR and T-SWR habituation using an Ach receptor antagonist d-tubocurarine. We found that the resulting network disinhibition disrupted T-SWR, but not S-SWR, habituation. Indeed, repeated tail stimulation in the presence of d-tubocurarine resulted in an initial enhancement in responding. Lastly, we tested whether habituation of T-SWR generalized to S-SWR and found that it did not. Collectively, these data indicate that (1) unlike S-SWR, habituation of T-SWR does not involve homosynaptic depression of SNs; and (2) the sensitivity of T-SWR habituation to network disinhibition is consistent with an interneuronal plasticity mechanism that is unique to the T-SWR circuit, since it does not alter S-SWR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-60
Number of pages9
JournalLearning and Memory
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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