The role of rapid, local, postsynaptic protein synthesis in learning-related synaptic facilitation in aplysia

Curr Biol. 2007 Dec 4;17(23):2073-80. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.10.053. Epub 2007 Nov 20.


The discovery that dendrites of neurons in the mammalian brain possess the capacity for protein synthesis stimulated interest in the potential role of local, postsynaptic protein synthesis in learning-related synaptic plasticity. But it remains unclear how local, postsynaptic protein synthesis actually mediates learning and memory in mammals. Accordingly, we examined whether learning in an invertebrate, the marine snail Aplysia, involves local, postsynaptic protein synthesis. Previously, we showed that the dishabituation and sensitization of the defensive withdrawal reflex in Aplysia require elevated postsynaptic Ca(2+), postsynaptic exocytosis, and functional upregulation of postsynaptic alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA)-type glutamate receptors. Here, we tested whether the synaptic facilitation that underlies dishabituation and sensitization in Aplysia requires local, postsynaptic protein synthesis. We found that the facilitatory transmitter, serotonin (5-HT), enhanced the response of the motor neuron to glutamate, the sensory neuron transmitter, and this enhancement depended on rapid protein synthesis. By using individual motor neurites surgically isolated from their cell bodies, we showed that the 5-HT-dependent protein synthesis occurred locally. Finally, by blocking postsynaptic protein synthesis, we disrupted the facilitation of the sensorimotor synapse. By demonstrating its critical role in a synaptic change that underlies learning and memory in a major model invertebrate system, our study suggests that local, postsynaptic protein synthesis is of fundamental importance to the cell biology of learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aplysia / metabolism
  • Aplysia / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Glutamates / pharmacology
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology
  • Motor Neurons / drug effects
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Ribosome Inactivating Proteins, Type 1 / metabolism
  • Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Glutamates
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Ribosome Inactivating Proteins, Type 1
  • Serotonin
  • GEL protein, Gelonium multiflorum