Despite numerous studies examining the mechanisms of operant conditioning (OC), the diversity of OC plasticity loci and their synergism have not been examined sufficiently. In the well-characterized feeding neural circuit of Aplysia, in vivo and in vitro appetitive OC increases neuronal excitability and electrical coupling among several neurons leading to an increase in expression of ingestive behavior. Here, we used the in vitro analog of OC to investigate whether OC reduces the excitability of a neuron, B4, whose inhibitory connections decrease expression of ingestive behavior. We found OC decreased the excitability of B4. This change appeared intrinsic to B4 because it could be replicated with an analog of OC in isolated cultures of B4 neurons. In addition to changes in B4 excitability, OC decreased the strength of B4's inhibitory connection to a key decision-making neuron, B51. The OC-induced changes were specific without affecting the excitability of another neuron critical for feeding behavior, B8, or the B4-to-B8 inhibitory connection. A conductance-based circuit model indicated that reducing the B4-to-B51 synapse, or increasing B51 excitability, mediated the OC phenotype more effectively than did decreasing B4 excitability. We combined these modifications to examine whether they could act synergistically. Combinations including B51 synergistically enhanced feeding. Taken together, these results suggest modifications of diverse loci work synergistically to mediate OC and that some neurons are well suited to work synergistically with plasticity in other loci.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The ways in which synergism of diverse plasticity loci mediate the change in motor patterns in operant conditioning (OC) are poorly understood. Here, we found that OC was in part mediated by decreasing the intrinsic excitability of a critical neuron of Aplysia feeding behavior, and specifically reducing the strength of one of its inhibitory connections that targets a key decision-making neuron. A conductance-based computational model indicated that the known plasticity loci showed a surprising level of synergism to mediate the behavioral changes associated with OC. These results highlight the importance of understanding the diversity, specificity and synergy among different types of plasticity that encode memory. Also, because OC in Aplysia is mediated by dopamine (DA), the present study provides insights into specific and synergistic mechanisms of DA-mediated reinforcement of behaviors.
- Computer Simulation
- Conditioning, Operant/physiology
- Models, Neurological
- Neuronal Plasticity/physiology
- operant learning
- feeding behavior
ASJC Scopus subject areas