Activation of a heterologously expressed octopamine receptor coupled only to adenylyl cyclase produces all the features of presynaptic facilitation in aplysia sensory neurons

Short-term behavioral sensitization of the gill-withdrawal reflex after tail stimuli in Aplysia leads to an enhancement of the connections between sensory and motor neurons of this reflex. Both behavioral sensitization and enhancement of the connection between sensory and motor neurons are importantly mediated by serotonin. Serotonin activates two types of receptors in the sensory neurons, one of which is coupled to the cAMP/protein kinase A (PKA) pathway and the other to the inositol triphosphate/protein kinase C (PKC) pathway. Here we describe a genetic approach to assessing the isolated contribution of the PKA pathway to short-term facilitation. We have cloned from Aplysia an octopamine receptor gene, Ap oa(1), that couples selectively to the cAMP/PKA pathway. We have ectopically expressed this receptor in Aplysia sensory neurons of the pleural ganglia, where it is not normally expressed. Activation of this receptor by octopamine stimulates all four presynaptic events involved in short-term synaptic facilitation that are normally produced by serotonin: (i) membrane depolarization; (ii) increased membrane excitability; (iii) increased spike duration; and (iv) presynaptic facilitation. These results indicate that the cAMP/PKA pathway alone is sufficient to produce all the features of presynaptic facilitation.