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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1991;627:124-49.

Neural and molecular bases of nonassociative and associative learning in Aplysia.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Texas Medical School, Houston 77225.


A model that summarizes some of the neural and molecular mechanisms contributing to short- and long-term sensitization is shown in Figure 14. Sensitizing stimuli lead to the release of a modulatory transmitter such as 5-HT. Both serotonin and sensitizing stimuli lead to an increase in the synthesis of cAMP and the modulation of a number of K+ currents through protein phosphorylation. Closure of these K+ channels leads to membrane depolarization and the enhancement of excitability. An additional consequence of the modulation of the K+ currents is a reduction of current during the repolarization of the action potential, which leads to an increase in its duration. As a result, Ca2+ flows into the cell for a correspondingly longer period of time, and additional transmitter is released from the cell. Modulation of the pool of transmitter available for release (mobilization) also appears to occur as a result of sensitizing stimuli. Recent evidence indicates that the mobilization process can be activated by both cAMP-dependent protein kinase and protein kinase C. Thus, release of transmitter is enhanced not only because of the greater influx of Ca2+ but also because more transmitter is made available for release by mobilization. The enhanced release of transmitter leads to enhanced activation of motor neurons and an enhanced behavioral response. Just as the regulation of membrane currents is used as a read out of the memory for short-term sensitization, it also is used as a read out of the memory for long-term sensitization. But long-term sensitization differs from short-term sensitization in that morphological changes are associated with it, and long-term sensitization requires new protein synthesis. The mechanisms that induce and maintain the long-term changes are not yet fully understood (see the dashed lines in Fig. 14) although they are likely to be due to direct interactions with the translation apparatus and perhaps also to events occurring in the cell nucleus. Nevertheless, it appears that the same intracellular messenger, cAMP, that contributes to the expression of the short-term changes, also triggers cellular processes that lead to the long-term changes. One possible mechanism for the action of cAMP is through its regulation of the synthesis of membrane modulatory proteins or key effector proteins (for example, membrane channels). It is also possible that long-term changes in membrane currents could be due in part to enhanced activity of the cAMP-dependent protein kinase so that there is a persistent phosphorylation of target proteins.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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