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Riddle DL, Blumenthal T, Meyer BJ, et al., editors. C. elegans II. 2nd edition. Cold Spring Harbor (NY): Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press; 1997.

Cover of C. elegans II

C. elegans II. 2nd edition.

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Section IVConclusions

For such a simple organism, C. elegans shows a great deal of behavioral plasticity. The conclusion that one must draw is that behavioral plasticity is an important component in the everyday life of a worm. Once well-defined learning paradigms become established in C. elegans, genetic analysis in this organism may resolve several long-standing issues in our studies of learning and memory. First, what are the molecules that mediate neural plasticity? Genetic analysis of associative learning, combined with studies of the proteins involved in neurotransmission (see Rand and Nonet, this volume), will identify the molecular substrates of synaptic strengthening and weakening. Second, does long-term potentiation (LTP) equal learning? A long-standing debate in the field of learning and memory has been whether the mechanisms that underlie cellular models of learning such as LTP reflect the mechanisms used in the formation of memory as measured in behavioral assays. Genetic analysis can circumvent this dispute because the initial criteria for selecting a mutant will be a demonstrable defect in a learning task. Third, is plasticity in the adult related to plasticity in the embryo? Genetic studies may reveal that the mechanisms that establish connectivity in the embryo are the same as those that modify behavior in the adult.

Studies in C. elegans may eventually link the different levels at which plasticity is measured, so that we will have a mechanistic understanding of changes in behavior. Such experiments will demonstrate how changes in the behavior of an animal are caused by physiological or morphological changes in a neural circuit. In turn, the changes in the neural circuit can then be correlated with the activity of molecules in individual cells.

Copyright © 1997, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.
Bookshelf ID: NBK19986


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