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Pitt, Berkeley researchers reconstruct seashells to model nervous system function
Date:4/9/2009

dge and the sight of the ball coming at you dictate your action. A mollusk collects sensory information from its previous pigmentation and converts it into motor action by producing more pigmentation and continuing the pattern."

To construct their model, the team studied electron microscope images of mollusk mantles to understand the neurons connecting the sensing cells in the mantle with the secretory cells that produce calcium carbonate and pigmented proteins. The team found that the excitatory and inhibitory synapseswhich promote or diminish cell activitysurrounding the secretory cells and the cells' firing thresholds act as a neural network that determines how much calcium and pigment the mollusk secretes. Different rates of calcium carbonate secretion determine the shape of the shell, while different amounts of pigment result in a pattern unique to each species.

For instance, shell ridges result from one cell increasing calcium carbonate secretion while depressing secretion from surrounding cells. The researchers also found three basic patterns of shell pigmentation determined by excitatory and inhibitory activity: stripes perpendicular to the growing edge, bands parallel to the growing edge, and more complex "traveling wave" patterns such as zigzags and chevrons.

With striped shells, a pigment-secreting cell inhibits secretion of pigment by neighboring cells but not itself, so that the same pattern is repeated day after day, yielding a stripe. Bands parallel to the growing edge form when pigment secreted on one day inhibit secreting cells for a few days, resulting in an on/off pattern. "Traveling wave" patterns of diamonds, zigzags, arrowheads, and other shapes come about when a pigment inhibits future secretion at that site but excites secretion in surrounding cells, so that pigment moves laterally on successive days like a wave.

"Our real contribution was not reproducing the patterns, but showing that the nervous system ca
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Contact: Morgan Kelly
mekelly@pitt.edu
412-624-4356
University of Pittsburgh
Source:Eurekalert

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