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The cellular mechanisms of learning in Aplysia: Of blind men and elephants


Until recently, investigations of the neurobiological substrates of simple forms of learning and memory in the marine snail Aplysia have focused mostly on plastic changes that occur within the presynaptic sensory neurons. Here, I summarize the results of recent studies that indicate that exclusively presynaptic processes cannot account for simple forms of learning in Aplysia. In particular, I present evidence that postsynaptic mechanisms play a far more important role in nonassociative learning in Aplysia than has been appreciated before now. Moreover, I describe recent data that suggests the intriguing hypothesis that the persistent, learning-induced changes in Aplysia sensory neurons might depend critically on postsynaptic signals for their induction. Finally, I discuss the potential applicability of this hypothesis to learning-related synaptic plasticity in the mammalian brain.

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