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

ds to wonder why the scientists investigate this phenomenon in the fruit fly. There are two good reasons for their choice. First of all, the brain of this insect is composed of about one hundred thousand nerve cells and is therefore considerably more straightforward than, say, a human brain which has about one hundred billion nerve cells. The cells responsible for avoidance behavior in the fruit fly can therefore be identified much more readily. What is more, the researchers can use the wide range of genetic tools that is already available for the fruit fly to activate or deactivate certain functions of the animal's brain with great precision.

"We used precisely these qualities to our own advantage", Hiromu Tanimoto explains. The scientists already knew that the connection between an odor and an electric shock occurs inside the mushroom-body a structure in the brain of the fly that consists of some 2000 nerve cells. It is also clear that the neurotransmitter dopamine enables the flies to learn to associate a potential source of danger with a certain odor. However, until now, it was unclear as to which of the dopaminergic cells are actually responsible for this.

Non-invasive manipulation

"The problem was that we had to determine which of the nerve cells release dopamine while the flies are moving about and learning to avoid the odor", Tanimoto recapitulates on the study. This is precisely what the scientists have now succeeded in doing. They introduced a "temperature selector" into dopamine-releasing cells that contact cells of the mushroom-body. This stowaway gene stimulated the nerve cells in one set of flies to release dopamine as soon as the room temperature increased slightly. In a second set of flies, a different gene caused the nerve cells to become deactivated once room temperature was increased, no matter what stimulus Tanimoto and his staff presented to the insects. Thus equipped to manipulate, the scientists could demonst
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Contact: Stefanie Merker
merker@neuro.mpg.de
49-898-578-3514
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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