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Multiple mechanisms of decision-making in leeches

William B. Kristan

UC San Diego, USA

Decision-making is a universal and important capability: the constellation of decisions an organism makes defines it both as a member of a species and as an individual. Finding the neural basis of decision-making has become approachable using modern imaging and computational techniques. My colleagues and I have taken a simple-system approach, studying the interactions of behaviors in the relatively simple nervous system of the medicinal leech. Our work has shown that the decision to decide between some behaviors (e.g., swimming and crawling) is subtle and cooperative, whereas deciding to feed is forceful and competitive. I will summarize our research on the neuronal circuitry underlying these behaviors, emphasizing that animals might use quite different mechanisms to select different behaviors.