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Reward learning in normal and mutant Drosophila

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  • Biological Sciences: Psychology
  • Chemistry


Hungry fruit flies can be trained by exposing them to two chemical odorants, one paired with the opportunity to feed on 1 M sucrose. On later testing, when given a choice between odorants the flies migrate specifically toward the sucrose-paired odor. This appetitively reinforced learning by the flies is similar in strength and character to previously demonstrated negatively reinforced learning, but it differs in several properties. Both memory consolidation and memory decay proceed relatively slowly after training with sucrose reward. Consolidation of learned information into anesthesia-resistant long-term memory requires about 100 min after training with sucrose compared to about 30 min after training with electric shock. Memory in wild-type flies persists for 24 hr after training with sucrose compared to 4-6 hr after training with electric shock. Memory in amnesiac mutants appears to be similarly lengthened, from 1 hr to 6 hr, by substituting sucrose reward for shock punishment. Two other mutants, dunce and rutabaga, which were isolated because they failed to learn the shock-avoidance task, learn normally in response to sucrose reward but forget rapidly afterward. One mutant, turnip, does not learn in either paradigm. Reward and punishment can be combined in olfactory discrimination training by pairing one odor to sucrose and the other to electric shock. In this situation, the expression of learning is approximately the sum of that obtained by using either reinforcement alone. After such training, memory decays at two distinct rates, each characteristic of one type of reinforcement.

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