Low environmental calcium blocks long-term memory formation in a freshwater pulmonate snail

Sarah Dalesman*, Marvin H. Braun, Ken Lukowiak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


The freshwater snail Lymnaea stagnalis (L.) is considered a calciphile and exhibits reduced growth and survival in environments containing less than 20 mg/l environmental calcium. Although it has no apparent effect on survival at 20 mg/l, reducing environmental calcium increases metabolic demand, and as such we consider that this level of calcium acts as a stressor on the snail. We exposed snails to acute periods of low environmental calcium and tested their ability to form intermediate-term memory (ITM) and long-term memory (LTM) following one trial operant conditioning (1TT) to reduce aerial respiratory activity in hypoxic conditions. We also assessed whether there were changes in the electrophysiological properties of a single neuron, right pedal dorsal 1 (RPeD1), which has been demonstrated to be necessary for LTM formation. Following training in high (80 mg/l) environmental calcium, L. stagnalis formed ITM and LTM lasting 24 h and demonstrated a significant reduction in all activity measured from RPeD1; however when snails were exposed to low (20 mg/l) environmental calcium they were able to form ITM but not LTM. Although no behavioral LTM was formed, a partial reduction in RPeD1 activtiy measured 24 h after training was observed, indicating a residual effect of training. The strong effect that environmental calcium concentration had on physiology and behavior in response to training to reduce aerial respiration in L. stagnalis suggests that it is an element of gastropod husbandry that needs to be carefully considered when studying other traits. This study also indicates that L. stagnalis found naturally in low calcium environments may be less able to adapt to novel stressors than populations found in harder waters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-403
Number of pages11
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
Issue number4
Early online date02 Dec 2010
Publication statusPublished - May 2011


  • Environmental calcium
  • Learning
  • Long-term memory
  • Lymnaea stagnalis
  • Pulmonate snail
  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Neurons/physiology
  • Snails/physiology
  • Conditioning, Operant/physiology
  • Neural Conduction/physiology
  • Oxygen Consumption/physiology
  • Animals
  • Memory, Long-Term/physiology
  • Behavior, Animal/physiology
  • Environment
  • Retention, Psychology/physiology
  • Calcium/physiology
  • Stress, Physiological/physiology


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