Functionally heterogeneous segmental oscillators generate swimming in the medical leech

J Comp Physiol A. 2000 Sep;186(9):871-83. doi: 10.1007/s003590000140.


Swimming behavior in the leech Hirudo medicinalis arises from neuronal circuits within the ventral nerve cord. Although the ventral nerve cord comprises a series of homologous segmental ganglia, it remains unresolved whether the swim oscillator circuits within individual ganglia are functionally equivalent. We have extended previous studies on pairs of ganglia to test whether individual ganglia throughout the nerve cord are capable of generating swim oscillations and to measure the cycle periods of local oscillations. We found that the swim-generating function of individual ganglia is broadly distributed, but not uniform. The swim-like oscillations in isolated ganglia from the anterior ganglia nerve cord were less robust than those from mid-cord. Swimming activity in posterior cord ganglia is even weaker we were unable to obtain swim-like oscillations from individual ganglia of the nerve cord posterior to segment 12. Swim-cycle periods exhibited a U-shaped function: those recorded in the most anterior individual ganglia (2.3 s for ganglion M2) and short chains of posterior ganglia (up to 4.0 s) were two to four times longer than those obtained from mid-cord ganglia (near 1.0 s). We conclude that the leech swim system comprises a functionally heterogeneous set of local oscillator units.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ganglia / physiology*
  • Leeches / physiology*
  • Periodicity
  • Swimming / physiology*