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Once bitten, twice shy -- a temperature switch triggers aversive memory
Date:7/26/2010

It is common sense that it's worth learning what things and situations are harmful to us if we want to have a long and healthy life. For example, after getting a nasty sunburn, we learn our lesson, and apply sun cream before going sunbathing next time. The importance of such learned avoidance strategies is reflected by the fact that even fruit flies possess them. These tiny flies can learn to associate a particular odor with a mild electrical shock. Once they learned this association, they steer clear of the source of that particular odor in future. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology now succeeded in identifying three nerve cells that play a role in the formation of this complex association. By altering the surrounding temperature, they could selectively switch certain cells on and off while the insects moved about freely and learned. (Current Biology, 15. July 2010)

Prevention is better than cure and avoidance strategies often help to save us from adversity. A child, for example, quickly learns not to touch a hot stove once it burned its fingers. Avoidance behavior is so essential that even the comparatively simple brain of the fruit fly excels in it. If, for example, a fruit fly is presented with a certain odor together with an electric shock, it quickly learns to avoid this particular odor by moving or flying off in the opposite direction. Yet, what actually happens in the brain when two such different stimuli as an odor and an electric shock are linked up with each other to cause a change in behavior? It was precisely this basic phenomenon that scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology were determined to track down.

The advantages of the fruit fly

The Max Planck Research Group "Behavioral Genetics", led by Hiromu Tanimoto, investigates what happens in the brain of the fruit fly when it learns to avoid something. Given that the fruit fly's brain is nothing short of minute, one ten
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Contact: Stefanie Merker
merker@neuro.mpg.de
49-898-578-3514
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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Once bitten, twice shy -- a temperature switch triggers aversive memory
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