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Rev Neurosci. 2009;20(5-6):405-27.

Evolving concepts of arousal: insights from simple model systems.

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Department of Neuroscience, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY 10029, USA.


Arousal states strongly influence behavioral decisions. In general, arousal promotes activity and enhances responsiveness to sensory stimuli. Earlier work has emphasized general, or nonspecific, effects of arousal on multiple classes of behaviors. However, contemporary work indicates that arousal has quite specific effects on behavior. Here we review studies of arousal-related circuitry in molluscan model systems. Neural substrates for both general and specific effects of arousal have been identified. Based on the scope of their actions, we can distinguish two major classes of arousal elements: localized versus general. Actions of localized arousal elements are often limited to one class of behavior, and may thereby mediate specific effects of arousal. In contrast, general arousal elements may influence multiple classes of behaviors, and mediate both specific and nonspecific effects of arousal. One common way in which general arousal elements influence multiple behaviors is by acting on localized arousal elements of distinct networks. Often, effects on distinct networks have different time courses that may facilitate formation of specific behavioral sequences. This review highlights prominent roles of serotonergic systems in arousal that are conserved in gastropod molluscs despite extreme diversification of body forms, diet and ecological niches. The studies also indicate that the serotonergic elements can act as either localized or general arousal elements. We discuss the implications of these findings across animals.

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