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Keywords:

  • γ-aminobutyric-acid;
  • homology;
  • identified neurons

ABSTRACT

The relative simplicity of certain invertebrate nervous systems, such as those of gastropod molluscs, allows behaviors to be dissected at the level of small neural circuits composed of individually identifiable neurons. Elucidating the neurotransmitter phenotype of neurons in neural circuits is important for understanding how those neural circuits function. In this study, we examined the distribution of γ-aminobutyric-acid;-immunoreactive (GABA-ir) neurons in four species of sea slugs (Mollusca, Gastropoda, Opisthobranchia, Nudibranchia): Tritonia diomedea, Melibe leonina, Dendronotus iris, and Hermissenda crassicornis. We found consistent patterns of GABA immunoreactivity in the pedal and cerebral-pleural ganglia across species. In particular, there were bilateral clusters in the lateral and medial regions of the dorsal surface of the cerebral ganglia as well as a cluster on the ventral surface of the pedal ganglia. There were also individual GABA-ir neurons that were recognizable across species. The invariant presence of these individual neurons and clusters suggests that they are homologous, although there were interspecies differences in the numbers of neurons in the clusters. The GABAergic system was largely restricted to the central nervous system, with the majority of axons confined to ganglionic connectives and commissures, suggesting a central, integrative role for GABA. GABA was a candidate inhibitory neurotransmitter for neurons in central pattern generator (CPG) circuits underlying swimming behaviors in these species, however none of the known swim CPG neurons were GABA-ir. Although the functions of these GABA-ir neurons are not known, it is clear that their presence has been strongly conserved across nudibranchs. J. Comp. Neurol. 522:794–810, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.