The neuronal basis of feeding in the snail, Helisoma, with comparisons to selected gastropods

Prog Neurobiol. 2001 Mar;63(4):383-408. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0082(00)00049-6.


Research on identified neurons during the last quarter century was forecast at a conference in 1973 that discussed "neuronal mechanisms of coordination in simple systems." The focus of the conference was on the neuronal control of simple stereotyped behavioral acts. Participants discussing the future of such research called for a comparative approach; emphasis on structure-function interactions; attention to environmental and behavioral context; and the development of new techniques. Significantly, in some cases amazing progress has been made in these areas. Major conclusions of the last quarter century are that so-called simple behaviors and the neural circuitry underlying them tend to be less simple, more flexible, and more highly modulated than originally imagined. However, the comparative approach has, as yet, failed to reach its potential. Molluscan preparations, along with arthropods and annelids, have always been at the forefront of neuroethological studies. Circuitry underlying feeding has been studied in a handful of species of gastropod molluscs. These studies have contributed substantially to our understanding of sensorimotor organization, the hierarchical control of behavior and coordination of multiple behaviors, and the organization and modulation of central pattern generators. However, direct interspecific comparisons of feeding circuitry and potentially homologous neurons have been lacking. This is unfortunate because much of the vast radiation of the class Gastropoda is associated with variations in feeding behaviors and feeding apparatuses, providing ample substrates for comparative studies including the evolution of defined circuitry. Here, the neural organization of feeding in the snail, Helisoma, is examined critically. Possible direct interspecific comparisons of neural circuitry and potentially homologous neurons are made. A universal model for central pattern generators underlying rasping feeding is proposed. Future comparative studies can be expected to combine behavioral, morphological, electrophysiological, molecular and genetic techniques to identify neurons and define neural circuitry. Digital resources will undoubtedly be exploited to organize and interface databases allowing illumination of the evolution of homologous identified neurons and defined neural circuitry in the context of behavioral change.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / cytology*
  • Central Nervous System / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / cytology
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / physiology
  • Interneurons / cytology*
  • Interneurons / physiology
  • Motor Neurons / cytology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Snails / cytology*
  • Snails / physiology