Neural mechanisms of operant conditioning and learning-induced behavioral plasticity in Aplysia

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2011 Mar;68(5):803-16. doi: 10.1007/s00018-010-0570-9. Epub 2010 Nov 2.


Associative learning in goal-directed behaviors, in contrast to reflexive behaviors, can alter processes of decision-making in the selection of appropriate action and its initiation, thereby enabling animals, including humans, to gain a predictive understanding of their external environment. In the mollusc Aplysia, recent studies on appetitive operant conditioning in which the animal learns about the positive consequences of its behavior have provided insights into this form of associative learning which, although ubiquitous, remains mechanistically poorly understood. The findings support increasing evidence that central circuit- and cell-wide sites other than chemical synaptic connections, including electrical coupling and membrane conductances controlling intrinsic neuronal excitability and underlying voltage-dependent plateauing or oscillatory mechanisms, may serve as the neural substrates for behavioral plasticity resulting from operant conditioning. Aplysia therefore continues to provide a model system for understanding learning and memory formation that enables establishing the neurobiological links between behavioral, network, and cellular levels of analysis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aplysia / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Operant*
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Reward


  • Dopamine