BackgroundWhile leeches in the genus Hirudo have long been models for neurobiology, the molecular underpinnings of nervous system structure and function in this group remain largely unknown. To begin to bridge this gap, we performed RNASeq on pools of identified neurons of the central nervous system (CNS): sensory T (touch), P (pressure) and N (nociception) neurons; neurosecretory Retzius cells; and ganglia from which these four cell types had been removed.
ResultsBioinformatic analyses identified 3565 putative genes whose expression differed significantly among the samples. These genes clustered into 9 groups which could be associated with one or more of the identified cell types. We verified predicted expression patterns through in situ hybridization on whole CNS ganglia, and found that orthologous genes were for the most part similarly expressed in a divergent leech genus, suggesting evolutionarily conserved roles for these genes. Transcriptional profiling allowed us to identify candidate phenotype-defining genes from expanded gene families. Thus, we identified one of eight hyperpolarization-activated cyclic-nucleotide gated (HCN) channels as a candidate for mediating the prominent sag current in P neurons, and found that one of five inositol triphosphate receptors (IP3Rs), representing a sub-family of IP3Rs absent from vertebrate genomes, is expressed with high specificity in T cells. We also identified one of two piezo genes, two of ~ 65 deg/enac genes, and one of at least 16 transient receptor potential (trp) genes as prime candidates for involvement in sensory transduction in the three distinct classes of leech mechanosensory neurons.
ConclusionsOur study defines distinct transcriptional profiles for four different neuronal types within the leech CNS, in addition to providing a second ganglionic transcriptome for the species. From these data we identified five gene families that may facilitate the sensory capabilities of these neurons, thus laying the basis for future work leveraging the strengths of the leech system to investigate the molecular processes underlying and linking mechanosensation, cell type specification, and behavior.