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In The Journal of experimental biology

Associative learning relies on the detection of coincidence between a stimulus and a reward or punishment. In the insect brain, this process is carried out in the mushroom bodies under control of octopaminergic and dopaminergic neurons. It was assumed that appetitive learning is governed by octopaminergic neurons, while dopamine is required for aversive learning. This view has been recently challenged: Both neurotransmitters are involved in both types of learning in bees and flies. Here, we test which neurotransmitters are required for appetitive learning in ants. We trained Lasius niger workers to discriminate two mixtures of linear hydrocarbons and to associate one of them with a sucrose reward. We analysed the walking paths of the ants using machine learning and found that the ants spent more time near the rewarded odour than the other, a preference that was stable for at least 24 hours. We then treated the ants before learning with either epinastine, an octopamine receptor blocker, or with flupentixol, a dopamine receptor blocker. Ants with blocked octopamine receptors did not prefer the rewarded odour. Octopamine signalling is thus necessary for appetitive learning of olfactory cues, likely because it signals information about odours or reward to the mushroom body. In contrast, ants with blocked dopamine receptors initially learned the rewarded odour but failed to retrieve this memory 24 hours later. Dopamine is thus likely required for long-term memory consolidation, independent of short-term memory formation. Our results show that appetitive olfactory learning depends on both octopamine and dopamine signalling in ants.

Wissink Maarten, Nehring Volker


Associative learning, Lasius niger, Long term memory, Neurotransmitters, Short term memory