Date of Award

Summer 8-8-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Paul S. Katz

Second Advisor

Charles D. Derby

Third Advisor

Ronald L. Calabrese

Fourth Advisor

Anne Z. Murphy


Despite having similar brains, related species can display divergent behaviors. Investigating the neural basis of such behavioral divergence can elucidate the neural mechanisms that allow behavioral change and identify neural mechanisms that influence the evolution of behavior.

Fewer than three percent of Nudipleura (Mollusca, Opisthobranchia, Gastropoda) species have been documented to swim. However, Tritonia diomedea and Pleurobranchaea californica express analogous, independently evolved swim behaviors consisting of rhythmic, alternating dorsal and ventral flexions. The Tritonia and Pleurobranchaea swims are produced by central pattern generator (CPG) circuits containing homologous neurons named DSI and C2. Homologues of DSI have been identified throughout the Nudipleura, including in species that do not express a dorsal-ventral swim. It is unclear what neural mechanisms allow Tritonia and Pleurobranchaea to produce a rhythmic swim behavior using homologous neurons that are not rhythmic in the majority of Nudipleura species.

Here, C2 homologues were also identified in species that do not express a dorsal-ventral swim. We found that certain electrophysiological properties of the DSI and C2 homologues were similar regardless of swim behavior. However, some synaptic connections differed in the non-dorsal-ventral swimming Hermissenda crassicornis compared to Tritonia and Pleurobranchaea. This suggests that particular CPG synaptic connections may play a role in dorsal-ventral swim expression.

DSI modulates the strength of C2 synapses in Tritonia, and this serotonergic modulation appears to be necessary for Tritonia to swim. DSI modulation of C2 synapses was also found to be present in Pleurobranchaea. Moreover, serotonergic modulation was necessary for swimming in Pleurobranchaea. The extent of this neuromodulation also correlated with the swimming ability in individual Pleurobranchaea; as the modulatory effect increased, so too did the number of swim cycles produced. Conversely, DSI did not modulate the amplitude of C2 synapses in Hermissenda. This indicates that species differences in neuromodulation may account for the ability to produce a dorsal-ventral swim.

The results indicate that differences in synaptic connections and neuromodulatory dynamics allow the expression of rhythmic swim behavior from homologous non-rhythmic components. Additionally, the results suggest that constraints on the nervous system may influence the neural mechanisms and behaviors that can evolve from homologous neural components.