Contextual taste cues modulate olfactory learning in C. elegans by an occasion-setting mechanism

Curr Biol. 2004 Jul 27;14(14):1303-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2004.06.066.


Manipulations of context can affect learning and memory performance across species in many associative learning paradigms. Using taste cues to create distinct contexts for olfactory adaptation assays in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, we now show that performance in this associative learning paradigm is sensitive to context manipulations, and we investigate the mechanism(s) used for the integration of context cues in learning. One possibility is that the taste and olfactory stimuli are perceived as a combined, blended cue that the animals then associate with the unconditioned stimulus (US) in the same manner as with any other unitary conditioned stimuli (CS). Alternatively, an occasion-setting model suggests that the taste cues only define the appropriate context for olfactory memory retrieval without directly entering into the primary association. Analysis of genetic mutants demonstrated that the olfactory and context cues are sensed by distinct primary sensory neurons and that the animals' ability to use taste cues to modulate olfactory learning is independent from their ability to utilize these same taste cues for adaptation. We interpret these results as evidence for the occasion-setting mechanism in which context cues modulate primary Pavlovian association by functioning in a hierarchical manner to define the appropriate setting for memory recall.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Cues*
  • Memory / physiology
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Smell / genetics
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Time Factors