An important body of evidence documents the differential expression of ion channels in brains, suggesting they are essential to endow particular brain structures with specific physiological properties. Because of their role in correlating inputs and outputs in neurons, modulation of voltage-dependent ion channels (VDICs) can profoundly change neuronal network dynamics and performance, and may represent a fundamental mechanism for behavioral plasticity, one that has received less attention in learning and memory studies. Revisiting three paradigmatic mutations altering olfactory learning and memory in Drosophila (dunce, leonardo, amnesiac) a link was established between each mutation and the operation of VDICs in Kenyon cells, the intrinsic neurons of the mushroom bodies (MBs). In Drosophila, MBs are essential to the emergence of olfactory associative learning and retention. Abnormal ion channel operation might underlie failures in neuronal physiology, and be crucial to understand the abnormal associative learning and retention phenotypes the mutants display. We also discuss the only case in which a mutation in an ion channel gene (shaker) has been directly linked to olfactory learning deficits. We analyze such evidence in light of recent discoveries indicating an unusual ion current profile in shaker mutant MB intrinsic neurons. We anticipate that further studies of acquisition and retention mutants will further confirm a link between such mutations and malfunction of specific ion channel mechanisms in brain structures implicated in learning and memory.
(c) 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.