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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Species-specific behavioral patterns correlate with differences in synaptic connections between homologous mechanosensory neurons

  • Author(s): Baltzley, Michael J.
  • Gaudry, Quentin
  • Kristan, William B.
  • et al.

We characterized the behavioral responses of two leech species, Hirudo verbana and Erpobdella obscura, to mechanical skin stimulation and examined the interactions between the pressure mechanosensory neurons (P cells) that innervate the skin. To quantify behavioral responses, we stimulated both intact leeches and isolated body wall preparations from the two species. In response to mechanical stimulation, Hirudo showed local bending behavior, in which the body wall shortened only on the side of the stimulation. Erpobdella, in contrast, contracted both sides of the body in response to touch. To investigate the neuronal basis for this behavioral difference, we studied the interactions between P cells. Each midbody ganglion has four P cells; each cell innervates a different quadrant of the body wall. Consistent with local bending, activating any one P cell in Hirudo elicited polysynaptic inhibitory potentials in the other P cells. In contrast, the P cells in Erpobdella had excitatory polysynaptic connections, consistent with the segment-wide contraction observed in this species. In addition, activating individual P cells caused asymmetrical body wall contractions in Hirudo and symmetrical body wall contractions in Erpobdella. These results suggest that the different behavioral responses in Erpobdella and Hirudo are partly mediated by interactions among mechanosensory cells.

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