In this study, we operantly conditioned the aerial respiratory behaviour of the freshwater snail Lymnaea stagnalis. Aerial respiration in Lymnaea stagnalis is accomplished by the spontaneous opening and closing of its respiratory orifice, the pneumostome, at the water surface. Weak tactile stimulation of the pneumostome area, when the pneumostome is open, evoked only the pneumostome closure response, which is one aspect of the escape-withdrawal reflex. Pneumostome stimulation resulted in its closure and the termination of aerial respiratory activity. A contingent tactile stimulation paradigm was used to operantly condition the animals. Stimulation of the pneumostome whenever the animal attempted to breathe resulted in significantly fewer attempts to open the pneumostome as training progressed. The latency of the first breath (subsequent to stimulation), the number of breaths and the total breathing time were measured before and after each training period. Significant, quantifiable changes in these behavioural parameters were observed only in the operant conditioning group animals. Control animals receiving tactile stimulation to their pneumostome not contingent upon pneumostome opening movements (yoked controls) or those that were physically prevented from surfacing to breathe (hypoxic controls), did not exhibit significant changes in these behavioural parameters. Our data provide the first direct evidence for operant conditioning of respiration in any animal.

This content is only available via PDF.