The sea slug Hermissenda learns to associate light and hair cell stimulation, but not when the stimuli are temporally uncorrelated. Memory storage, which requires an elevation in calcium, occurs in the photoreceptors, which receive monosynaptic input from hair cells that sense acceleration stimuli such as turbulence. Both light and hair cell activity increase calcium concentration in the photoreceptor, but it is unknown whether paired calcium signals combine supra-linearly to initiate memory storage. A correlate of memory storage is an enhancement of the long lasting depolarization (LLD) after light offset, which is attributed to a reduction in voltage dependent potassium currents; however, it is unclear what causes the LLD in the untrained animal.
These issues were addressed using a multi-compartmental computer model of phototransduction, calcium dynamics, and ionic currents of the Hermissenda photoreceptor. Simulations of the interaction between light and hair cell activity show that paired stimuli do not produce a greater calcium increase than unpaired stimuli. This suggests that hair cell activity is acting via some other pathway to initiate memory storage. In addition, simulations show that a potassium leak channel, which closes with an increase in calcium, is required to produce both the untrained LLD and the enhanced LLD due to the decrease in voltage dependent potassium currents. Thus, the expression of this correlate of classical conditioning may depend on a leak potassium current.