Weak involvement of octopamine in aversive taste learning in a snail

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The pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis is capable of learning taste aversion by pairing presentations of a sucrose solution and an electric shock and consolidating it into long-term memory (LTM), which is referred to as conditioned taste aversion (CTA). We asked here if the neurotransmitter octopamine is involved in CTA. We first determined the levels of octopamine and its catabolites in the central nervous system (CNS) of snails with varying degrees of food deprivation, because CTA grades are correlated with degrees of food deprivation. We next manipulated the octopamine signaling using both an agonist and an antagonist of octopamine receptors and correlated their respective effects with CTA grades. We found that snails with the least amount of food-deprivation obtained the best CTA grade and had low levels of octopamine; whereas the most severely food-deprived snails did not form CTA and had the highest CNS octopamine levels. In modestly food-deprived snails, octopamine application increased the basal level of feeding response to a sucrose solution, and it did not obstruct CTA formation. Application of phentolamine, an octopamine receptor antagonist, to the most severely food-deprived snails decreased the basal level of feeding elicited by sucrose, but it did not enhance CTA formation. We conclude that octopamine involvement in CTA formation in Lymnaea is at best weak, and that the changes in CNS octopamine content are an epiphenomenon.

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