Neural mechanisms of decision making in the pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis

Crossley, Michael (2014) Neural mechanisms of decision making in the pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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The aim of this thesis was to identify key neural mechanisms underlying decision making in a model invertebrate system, the pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis. Specifically, this was examined with respect to two decision making processes associated with Lymnaea’s feeding behaviour; first a stimulus present/stimulus absent perceptual decision making task for selecting between appetitive and consummatory behaviours, second a behavioural choice between ingestion and egestion.

A behavioural paradigm was designed in order to study stimulus present and stimulus absent decision making in Lymnaea. The switch between appetitive and consummatory behaviours was used as a read out of the decision. During stimulus absent decisions, the animal made a judgement about the absence of a sensory stimulus and entered into a period of quiescence. During stimulus present decisions the animal switched from the appetitive behaviour into the consummatory behaviour. The decision about the presence of a stimulus was reliant on the tactile cues from the potential food. Importantly the task was amenable for in vitro preparations and the identification of the decision neurons. A candidate stimulus present decision neuron, the ventral trigger neuron (vTN), was identified in the buccal ganglia. vTN received appropriate sensory input and was able to initiate fictive feeding cycles. vTN was able to initiate fictive feeding cycles via monosynaptic connections with feeding central pattern generator (CPG) interneurons. Development of an in vitro paradigm of the stimulus present and stimulus absent decision provided strong evidence that vTN was a stimulus present decision neuron. A stimulus absent decision neuron was identified as the inhibitory interneuron and member of the feeding CPG, N3t. An in vitro paradigm was used to test interactions of the stimulus present decision neuron with the stimulus absent decision neuron. Goal directed behaviours were also shown to lower the threshold of activity needed for vTN to initiate fictive consummatory behaviours, lowering the sensory threshold needed for stimulus present decisions to be made.

The neural mechanism of behavioural choice between ingestion and egestion in Lymnaea was characterised using in vivo and in vitro preparations. A novel motor neuron was identified whose phase of firing activity was selectively shifted between the two behaviours. The interneuronal control of ingestion was identified and consisted of previously identified command-like neurons, whereas the interneuronal control of egestion consisted of novel interneurons located in the buccal ganglia. The two networks showed evidence of both dedicated and multifunctional interneurons.

The studies presented in this thesis demonstrate that even within the same relatively simple neural network several distinct mechanisms are utilised for different types of decision. These were identified at the level of individual neurons and their synaptic connectivity. Uniquely in these studies, distinct stimulus absent and stimulus present decision neurons were identified in the perceptual decision task and it was also shown that performing the decision making task facilitates the stimulus present decision. This provides fundamental new insights into the neural mechanisms of decision making. The studies also provide a model system for comparison between a form of decision making studied extensively in mammals (perceptual decision making in a stimulus absent/stimulus present task) and a form studied primarily in invertebrates (behavioural choice between two incompatible behaviours), bridging the gap between invertebrate and vertebrate decision making studies.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Neuroscience
Subjects: Q Science > QL Zoology > QL0360 Invertebrates > QL0403 Mollusca > QL0430.4 Gastropoda (Snails)
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 04 Jun 2014 09:29
Last Modified: 21 Sep 2015 13:48

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