Aplysia californica exhibit a dramatic defensive reaction, the release of a cloud of dark purple ink, in response to noxious stimuli. Although the neural control of this behavior has been studied rather extensively, the functional significance of the inking response is not well understood. We have found that ink released by animals that are subjected to noxious stimuli rapidly induces inhibition of the tail-elicited siphon withdrawal reflex in neighboring Aplysia. Further experiments indicated that the inhibitor is the ink itself, and not some other substance released by the donor animals. Finally, we examined whether ink-induced inhibition of siphon withdrawal might be a secondary consequence of an elevated competing response such as increased locomotion. We found that locomotion is not affected by the concentrations of ink we employed, indicating that the ink probably modulates the withdrawal reflex directly. Because the neural circuits responsible for both tail-elicited siphon withdrawal and the inking response have already been partly delineated, one can now bring the neurobiological advantages of Aplysia to bear on the ethologically important issue of signaling between conspecifics.
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