Acute combined exposure to heavy metals (Zn, Cd) blocks memory formation in a freshwater snail

Jovita Byzitter, Ken Lukowiak, Vikram Karnik, Sarah Joanne Dalesman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (SciVal)


The effect of heavy metals on species survival is well documented; however, sublethal effects on behaviour and physiology are receiving growing attention. Measurements of changes in activity and respiration are more sensitive to pollutants, and therefore a better early indicator of potentially harmful ecological impacts. We assessed the effect of acute exposure (48 h) to two heavy metals at concentrations below those allowable in municipal drinking water (Zn: 1,100 μg/l; Cd: 3 μg/l) on locomotion and respiration using the freshwater snail, Lymnaea stagnalis. In addition we used a novel assessment method, testing the ability of the snail to form memory in the presence of heavy metals in both intact snails, and also snails that had the osphradial nerve severed which connects a chemosensory organ, the osphradium, to the central nervous system. Aerial respiration and locomotion remained unchanged by acute exposure to heavy metals. There was also no effect on memory formation of these metals when administered alone. However, when snails were exposed to these metals in combination memory formation was blocked. Severing the osphradial nerve prevented the memory blocking effect of Zn and Cd, indicating that the snails are sensing these metals in their environment via the osphradium and responding to them as a stressor. Therefore, assessing the ability of this species to form memory is a more sensitive measure of heavy metal pollution than measures of activity, and indicates that the snails' ability to demonstrate behavioural plasticity may be compromised by the presence of these pollutants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)860-868
Number of pages9
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2012


  • Cadmium
  • Heavy metal
  • Learning and memory
  • Locomotion
  • Lymnaea stagnalis
  • Respiration
  • Zinc


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