Learning in Aplysia: looking at synaptic plasticity from both sides

Trends Neurosci. 2003 Dec;26(12):662-70. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2003.09.014.


Until recently, learning and memory in invertebrate organisms was believed to be mediated by relatively simple presynaptic mechanisms. By contrast, learning and memory in vertebrate organisms is generally thought to be mediated, at least in part, by postsynaptic mechanisms. But new experimental evidence from research using a model invertebrate organism, the marine snail Aplysia, indicates that this apparent distinction between invertebrate and vertebrate synaptic mechanisms of learning is invalid: learning in Aplysia cannot be explained in terms of exclusively presynaptic mechanisms. NMDA-receptor-dependent LTP appears to be necessary for classical conditioning in Aplysia. Furthermore, modulation of trafficking of postsynaptic ionotropic glutamate receptors underlies behavioral sensitization in this snail. Exclusively presynaptic processes appear to support only relatively brief memory in Aplysia. More persistent memory is likely to be mediated by postsynaptic processes, or by presynaptic processes whose expression depends upon retrograde signals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aplysia / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / agonists
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology


  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate