Multi-tasking neurons drive digestion at a snail’s pace

The pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis has long been used as a model organism in the study of neuroscience.  The mollusc’s relatively small neural system and bright orange neurons make it ideal to study the anatomy, molecular biology and electrophysiology of neuronal circuits both in vivo and in vitro, and to further understanding of the effects of this process on behavior.

In a review
published today in Neural Systems & Circuits
, Professor Paul Benjamin (University of Sussex) describes studies undertaken in Lymnaea to relate neural circuitry to feeding behaviour.  Investigations have revealed the neural networks involved in decision making, biting (a rhythmic process initiated by chemical food stimuli), modulation, hunger and satiety.  Interestingly, rather than forming discreet circuits, feeding behaviour is generated by neurons contributing to more than one network, sharing roles with other neurons.  
This “multi-tasking” is of great benefit to Lymnaea, which only contain around ~20000 neurons, and aids our understanding of circuitry in a system which is much easier to trace than the mammalian nervous system, which contains many millions of neurons and possible connections.

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