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Drosophila larvae are focused on feeding and have few neurons. Within these bounds, however, there still are behavioural degrees of freedom. This review is devoted to what these elements of flexibility are, and how they come about. Regarding odour-food associative learning, the emerging working hypothesis is that when a mushroom body neuron is activated as a part of an odour-specific set of mushroom body neurons, and coincidently receives a reinforcement signal carried by aminergic neurons, the AC-cAMP-PKA cascade is triggered. One substrate of this cascade is Synapsin, and therefore this review features a general and comparative discussion of Synapsin function. Phosphorylation of Synapsin ensures an alteration of synaptic strength between this mushroom body neuron and its target neuron(s). If the trained odour is encountered again, the pattern of mushroom body neurons coding this odour is activated, such that their modified output now allows conditioned behaviour. However, such an activated memory trace does not automatically cause conditioned behaviour. Rather, in a process that remains off-line from behaviour, the larvae compare the value of the testing situation (based on gustatory input) with the value of the odour-activated memory trace (based on mushroom body output). The circuit towards appetitive conditioned behaviour is closed only if the memory trace suggests that tracking down the learned odour will lead to a place better than the current one. It is this expectation of a positive outcome that is the immediate cause of appetitive conditioned behaviour. Such conditioned search for reward corresponds to a view of aversive conditioned behaviour as conditioned escape from punishment, which is enabled only if there is something to escape from - much in the same way as we only search for things that are not there, and run for the emergency exit only when there is an emergency. One may now ask whether beyond 'value' additional information about reinforcement is contained in the memory trace, such as information about the kind and intensity of the reinforcer used. The Drosophila larva may allow us to develop satisfyingly detailed accounts of such mnemonic richness - if it exists.


Sören Diegelmann, Bert Klagges, Birgit Michels, Michael Schleyer, Bertram Gerber. Maggot learning and Synapsin function. The Journal of experimental biology. 2013 Mar 15;216(Pt 6):939-51

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PMID: 23447663

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