A kind of sea slug, known as Aplysia californica, is still very useful for biomedical research aimed at finding better treatments to help people with learning disabilities.


The mollusk, which is used by researchers to study the brain, has much in common with other species, including humans. Several studies that have been working with this animal have significantly increased scientific knowledge about learning and memory.

At the Center for Health Sciences, University of Texas at Houston, a team of neuroscientists used this animal model to evaluate an innovative learning strategy designed to help improve memory in the brain, and the results are encouraging. Ultimately, this could benefit people with mental disorders resulting from stroke, head trauma, congenital cognitive disorders, or simply aging.

Future steps in this line of research may include experiments in other animal models and eventually human clinical trials.

In the recent study on the learning strategy, there identified moments when the brain was ready to learn, which in turn facilitated the planning of training sessions, which took place during these periods of ability for high learning. The result was a significant increase in memory.

Based on previous research in which was identified proteins associated with memory, the team of John H. “Jack” Byrne (Professor, Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at this center) created a mathematical model that predicts the time when the activity of these proteins that provide the best scenario for neural learning.

They performed 10,000 permutations with different computer to determine a schedule of training sessions that would improve memory.

Two groups of slugs were given five training sessions. One group received training sessions at irregular intervals predicted by the mathematical model. Another group received training sessions at regular intervals of 20 minutes.

Five days after completion of the training sessions, revealed a significant increase in the memory of the group following a planning-based learning predicted by computer. However, not detected any increase in the group that received learning sessions at regular intervals of 20 minutes.

The investigation, was also worked Yili Zhang, Rong-Yu Liu, George A. Heberton, Paul Smolen, Douglas A. Baxter and Len Cleary.