Heartbeat control in leeches. I. Constriction pattern and neural modulation of blood pressure in intact animals

J Neurophysiol. 2004 Jan;91(1):382-96. doi: 10.1152/jn.00526.2003. Epub 2003 Sep 17.


Two tubular hearts propel blood through the closed circulatory system of the medicinal leech. The hearts are myogenic but are driven by a centrally generated motor pattern that controls heart rate and intersegmental coordination. In two consecutive papers, we address the question of how the motor pattern is translated into the pattern of diastole and systole of leech hearts. We imaged the constriction patterns of the hearts in quiescent intact animals. In one heart, systole progresses rear-to-front (peristaltic coordination mode), whereas systole occurs nearly simultaneously in the other heart (synchronous coordination mode) with regular switches between these two coordination modes. Intersegmental phase relations between heart segments do not vary with changes in the heartbeat period. The peristaltic heart drives blood forward through itself and then rearward through the other longitudinal vessels. The synchronous heart does not seem to contribute to rearward flow along the body axis and may support segmental circulation instead. Simultaneous monitoring of heart motor neuron discharge and the constriction of the corresponding heart segment in innervated, reduced preparations enabled us later to meld the constriction pattern with the fictive motor pattern described in the following paper. Current injections into one heart modulatory neuron while monitoring intravascular pressure from the corresponding heart showed that these neurons can acutely change diastolic and systolic pressure. However, they do not determine the different systolic pressure profiles associated with the two coordination modes, which appear to result from the constriction pattern.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena*
  • Electrophysiology / methods
  • Functional Laterality
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / cytology
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / physiology
  • Heart / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Leeches
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Myocardial Contraction*
  • Periodicity
  • Video Recording / methods