Invertebrate studies and their ongoing contributions to neuroscience
Invertebrates have been deployed very successfully in experimental studies of the nervous system and neuromuscular junctions. Many important discoveries on axonal conduction, synaptic transmission, integrative neurobiology and behaviour have been made by investigations of these remarkable animals. Their advantages as model organisms for investigations of nervous systems include (a) the large diameter of neurons, glia and muscle cells of some invertebrates, thereby facilitating microelectrode recordings; (b) simple nervous systems with few neurons, enhancing the tractability of neuronal circuitry; and (c) well-defined behaviours, which lend themselves to physiological and genetic dissection. Genetic model organisms such as Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans have provided powerful genetic approaches to central questions concerning nervous system development, learning and memory and the cellular and molecular basis of behaviour. The process of attributing function to particular gene products has been greatly accelerated in recent years with access to entire genome sequences and the application of reverse genetic (e.g. RNA interference, RNAi) and other post-genome technologies (e.g. microarrays). Studies of many other invertebrates, notably the honeybee (Apis mellifera), a nudibranch mollusc (Aplysia californica), locusts, lobsters, crabs, annelids and jellyfish have all assisted in the development of major concepts in neuroscience. The future is equally bright with ease of access to genome-wide reverse genetic technologies, and the development of optical recordings using voltage and intracellular calcium sensors genetically targeted to selected individual and groups of neurons.
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