Habituation is a common form of non-associative learning in which the organism gradually decreases its response to repeated stimuli. The decrease in exploratory activity of many animal species during exposure to a novel open field arena is a widely studied habituation paradigm. However, a theoretical framework to quantify how the novelty of the arena is learned during habituation is currently missing. Drosophila melanogaster display a high mean absolute activity and a high probability for directional persistence when first introduced to a novel arena. Both measures decrease during habituation to the arena. Here, we propose a phenomenological model of habituation for Drosophila exploration based on two principles: Drosophila form a spatial representation of the arena edge as a set of connected local patches, and repeated exposure to these patches is essential for the habituation of the novelty. The level of exposure depends on the number of visitations and is quantified by a variable referred to as "coverage". This model was tested by comparing predictions against the experimentally measured behavior of wild type Drosophila. The novelty habituation of wild type Canton-S depends on coverage and is specifically independent of the arena radius. Our model describes the time dependent locomotor activity, ΔD, of Canton-S using an experimentally established stochastic process Pn(ΔD), which depends on the coverage. The quantitative measures of exploration and habituation were further applied to three mutant genotypes. Consistent with a requirement for vision in novelty habituation, blind no receptor potential A(7) mutants display a failure in the decay of probability for directional persistence and mean absolute activity. The rutabaga(2080) habituation mutant also shows defects in these measures. The kurtz(1) non-visual arrestin mutant demonstrates a rapid decay in these measures, implying reduced motivation. The model and the habituation measures offer a powerful framework for understanding mechanisms associated with open field habituation.
Keywords: Computational modeling; Drosophila; Exploration; Habituation.
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