Neuronal control of leech behavior

Prog Neurobiol. 2005 Aug;76(5):279-327. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2005.09.004. Epub 2005 Nov 2.


The medicinal leech has served as an important experimental preparation for neuroscience research since the late 19th century. Initial anatomical and developmental studies dating back more than 100 years ago were followed by behavioral and electrophysiological investigations in the first half of the 20th century. More recently, intense studies of the neuronal mechanisms underlying leech movements have resulted in detailed descriptions of six behaviors described in this review; namely, heartbeat, local bending, shortening, swimming, crawling, and feeding. Neuroethological studies in leeches are particularly tractable because the CNS is distributed and metameric, with only 400 identifiable, mostly paired neurons in segmental ganglia. An interesting, yet limited, set of discrete movements allows students of leech behavior not only to describe the underlying neuronal circuits, but also interactions among circuits and behaviors. This review provides descriptions of six behaviors including their origins within neuronal circuits, their modification by feedback loops and neuromodulators, and interactions between circuits underlying with these behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Feedback / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Ganglia / anatomy & histology
  • Ganglia / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Leeches / physiology*
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*