Hirudo medicinalis: a platform for investigating genes in neural repair

Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2005 Mar;25(2):427-40. doi: 10.1007/s10571-005-3151-y.


We have used the nervous system of the medicinal leech as a preparation to study the molecular basis of neural repair. The leech central nervous system, unlike mammalian CNS, can regenerate to restore function, and contains identified nerve cells of known function and connectivity. We have constructed subtractive cDNA probes from whole and regenerating ganglia of the ventral nerve cord and have used these to screen a serotonergic Retzius neuron library. This identifies genes that are regulated as a result of axotomy, and are expressed by the Retzius cell. This approach identifies many genes, both novel and known. Many of the known genes identified have homologues in vertebrates, including man. For example, genes encoding thioredoxin (TRX), Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum Protein 1 (RER-1) and ATP synthase are upregulated at 24 h postinjury in leech nerve cord. To investigate the functional role of regulated genes in neuron regrowth we are using microinjection of antisense oligonucleotides in combination with horseradish peroxidase to knock down expression of a chosen gene and to assess regeneration in single neurons in 3-D ganglion culture. As an example of this approach we describe experiments to microinject antisense oligonucleotide to a leech isoform of the structural protein, Protein 4.1. Our approach thus identifies genes regulated at different times after injury that may underpin the intrinsic ability of leech neurons to survive damage, to initiate regrowth programs and to remake functional connections. It enables us to determine the time course of gene expression in the regenerating nerve cord, and to study the effects of gene knockdown in identified neurons regenerating in defined conditions in culture.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Collagen
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / genetics
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / cytology
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / physiology
  • Gels
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Hirudo medicinalis / genetics*
  • Horseradish Peroxidase / pharmacology
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nerve Regeneration / genetics*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neuropeptides / genetics
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / pharmacology
  • Thioredoxins / genetics


  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Gels
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Neuropeptides
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense
  • erythrocyte membrane protein band 4.1-like 1
  • Thioredoxins
  • Collagen
  • Horseradish Peroxidase