Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Paul S. Katz
Serotonin (5-HT) receptors modulate neuronal and synaptic properties, altering the functional output of neural circuits. Changing the functions of a neural circuit can alter behavior. Over evolutionary time, species differences in neuromodulation could allow for species-specific behaviors to evolve. To investigate this idea, this dissertation compared neuromodulatory receptor gene expression underlying species-specific swimming behaviors in sea slugs.
The sea slug Tritonia diomedea (Mollusca, Gastropoda, Nudipleura, Nudibranchia), performs a rhythmic dorsal-ventral (DV) escape swim behavior. The behavior is controlled by a central pattern generator (CPG), composed of a small number of large, identifiable neurons. During swimming, 5-HT enhances the synaptic strength of a neuron in the swim CPG, called C2. In contrast, the nudibranch Hermissenda crassicornis does not swim in this manner. It has C2 homologues, and 5-HT is present, however, 5-HT does not modulate C2 synaptic strength. Pleurobranchaea californica, a Nudipleura species belonging to a sister clade of Nudibranchia, swims with DV flexions, although in this species swimming varies within individuals. 5-HT enhances Pleurobranchaea C2 homologue synaptic strength in swimming animals, only. Phylogenetic analysis showed that Tritonia and Pleurobranchaea independently evolved DV-swimming. Thus, there is a correlation between independently evolved swimming and serotonergic modulation of C2 homologues. It was hypothesized that 5-HT receptor differences in C2 neurons underlie species-specific swimming and modulation.
To test this hypothesis, 5-HT receptor genes were identified in each species. A total of seven receptor subtypes, from five gene families, were found to be expressed in the brains of each species. Using single-cell quantitative PCR (qPCR), 5-HT receptor expression profiles were determined in C2 homologues. Genes known as 5-HT2a and 5-HT7 were expressed in C2 homologues from Tritonia and swimming Pleurobranchaea, only. Single-neuron transcriptome sequencing verified these results. The expression profiles of neuromodulatory receptor genes in single, homologous neurons correlated with species-specific swimming and modulation. The results illustrate how differences in neuromodulatory gene expression may alter the functional output of homologous neural structures, shedding light on a means by which neuromodulation can alter the brain to facilitate the evolution of species-specific behaviors.
Evolution, Mollusc, Neuromodulation, Serotonin, Receptor, Behavior, Next-Generation Sequencing, Transcriptomics
Tamvacakis, Arianna, "Investigating Serotonin Receptor Expression in Single Homologous Neurons Underlying Independently Evolved and Species-Specific Behaviors." Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2017.