Nature Communications

Evidence of conditioned behavior in amoebae

Associative memory is the main type of learning by which complex organisms endowed with evolved nervous systems respond efficiently to certain environmental stimuli. It has been found in different multicellular species, from cephalopods to humans, but never in individual cells. Here we describe a motility pattern consistent with associative conditioned behavior in the microorganism Amoeba proteus. We use a controlled direct-current electric field as the conditioned stimulus, and a specific chemotactic peptide as the unconditioned stimulus. The amoebae are capable of linking two independent past events, generating persistent locomotion movements that can prevail for 44 min on average. We confirm a similar behavior in a related species, Metamoeba leningradensis. Thus, our results indicate that unicellular organisms can modify their behavior during migration by associative conditioning.

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