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Front Integr Neurosci. 2013 Nov 19;7:79. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2013.00079. eCollection 2013.

Habituation of reflexive and motivated behavior in mice with deficient BK channel function.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario London, ON, Canada.


Habituation is considered the most basic form of learning. It describes the decrease of a behavioral response to a repeated non-threatening sensory stimulus and therefore provides an important sensory filtering mechanism. While some neuronal pathways mediating habituation are well described, underlying cellular/molecular mechanisms are not yet fully understood. In general, there is an agreement that short-term and long-term habituation are based on different mechanisms. Historically, a distinction has also been made between habituation of motivated versus reflexive behavior. In recent studies in invertebrates the large conductance voltage- and calcium-activated potassium (BK) channel has been implicated to be a key player in habituation by regulating synaptic transmission. Here, we tested mice deficient for the pore forming α-subunit of the BK channel for short-term and long-term habituation of the acoustic startle reflex (reflexive behavior) and of the exploratory locomotor behavior in the open field box (motivated behavior). Short-term habituation of startle was completely abolished in the BK knock-out mice, whereas neither long-term habituation of startle nor habituation of motivated behavior was affected by the BK deficiency. Our results support a highly preserved mechanism for short-term habituation of startle across species that is distinct from long-term habituation mechanisms. It also supports the notion that there are different mechanisms underlying habituation of motivated behavior versus reflexive behavior.


BK channel; habituation; locomotion; sensorimotor gating; startle

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