Entrainment of leech swimming activity by the ventral stretch receptor

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2004 Nov;190(11):939-49. doi: 10.1007/s00359-004-0549-9. Epub 2004 Aug 25.


Rhythmic animal movements originate in CNS oscillator circuits; however, sensory inputs play an important role in shaping motor output. Our recent studies demonstrated that leeches with severed nerve cords swim with excellent coordination between the two ends, indicating that sensory inputs are sufficient for maintaining intersegmental coordination. In this study, we examined the neuronal substrates that underlie intersegmental coordination via sensory mechanisms. Among the identified sensory neurons in the leech, we found the ventral stretch receptor (VSR) to be the best candidate for our study because of its sensitivity to tension in longitudinal muscle. Our experiments demonstrate that (1) the membrane potential of the VSR is depolarized during swimming and oscillates with an amplitude of 1.5-5.0 mV, (2) rhythmic currents injected into the VSR can entrain ongoing swimming over a large frequency range (0.9-1.8 Hz), and (3) large current pulses injected into the VSR shift the phase of the swimming rhythm. These results suggest that VSRs play an important role in generating and modulating the swim rhythm. We propose that coordinated swimming in leech preparations with severed nerve cords results from mutual entrainment between the two ends of the leech mediated by stretch receptors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Feedback / physiology*
  • Leeches / physiology*
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Swimming / physiology*