Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


41st Annual Convention; San Antonio, TX; 2015

Event Details

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B. F. Skinner Lecture Series Paper Session #217
CE Offered: PSY

Behavioral, Neuronal, and Genetic Analyses in C. elegans Lead to Insights Into Mechanisms of Habituation

Sunday, May 24, 2015
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
006AB (CC)
Area: EAB; Domain: Basic Research
Instruction Level: Basic
CE Instructor: Catharine Rankin, Ph.D.
Chair: Eric S. Murphy (University of Alaska Anchorage)
CATHARINE RANKIN (University of British Columbia)
Dr. Catharine Rankin earned her Ph.D. in biopsychology and animal behavior at the City University of New York studying electric fish with Dr. Peter Moller. She then joined Dr. Thomas J. Carew at Yale University as a post-doc and studied the development of learning and memory in the marine mollusc Aplysia californica. In 1987, Dr. Rankin joined the Psychology Department at the University of British Columbia and began her research on learning and memory in C. elegans. Today, she is a professor of psychology at UBC and is internationally recognized for her work using C. elegans as a model system to address fundamental psychological questions about the effects of experience on the nervous system and behavior. She investigates the effects of experience at behavioral, neural system, and genetic levels. She was the first to show the C. elegans is capable of learning and memory, and has uncovered several genes that play important roles in learning and memory. Her research is beginning to shed light on the cellular mechanisms of habituation, the simplest form of learning.

Habituation is a fundamental form of learning highly conserved throughout phylogeny and poorly understood mechanistically. In the years that Dr. Catharine Rankin's lab has studied habituation in C. elegans, they have developed an understanding of habituation and two neural circuits underlying behaviors that habituate. They have studies both associative and nonassociative aspects of habituation as well as both short- and long-term memory. They are now focusing on the genes underlying this learning in two different, but overlapping neural circuits using a novel high-throughput behavioral analysis system, the multi-worm tracker. The first response is startle response habituation to a mechanosensory tap to the substrate holding the worm; this response is mediated by five sensory neurons. The second is habituation of a withdrawal response following optogenetic activation of a pair of polymodal nociceptors (the ASH neurons) in the head of the worm. Through analyses of these two response systems, they have found that habituation is not a single phenomenon, but is made up of the integration of different subcomponents that show different patterns/kinetics of habituation and sensitization. The integration of these components leads to behavioral outcomes that are different depending on the nature of stimulation, and are highly adaptive for the worm.

Target Audience:

Anyone who wants to understand or study the biological mechanisms underlying behavior.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the event, the participants should be able to: (1) understand the advantages of using a high-throughput genetic model system approach to studying behavior; (2) understand how an observed behavior can be dissected into independent components and how experience can alter the components of a behavior in different ways; and (3) have a new appreciation for nonassociative and associative complexities of habituation.
Keyword(s): C. elegans, habituation, memory, sensitization



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