Characterization of central axon terminals of putative stretch receptors in leeches

J Comp Neurol. 2006 Jan 10;494(2):290-302. doi: 10.1002/cne.20818.


Sensory feedback from stretch receptors, neurons that detect position or tension, is crucial for generating normal, robust locomotion. Among the eight pairs of putative stretch receptors associated with longitudinal muscles in midbody segments of medicinal leeches, only the ventral stretch receptor has been characterized in detail. To achieve the identification of all such receptors, we penetrated large axons in the nerve roots of nerve cords from adult leeches with dye-filled (Alexa Fluor hydrazide) electrodes. We identified the terminal arborizations of two additional putative stretch receptors with axons in anterior nerve roots and four more such receptors with axons in posterior roots of midbody ganglia. The axons are nonspiking and are individually identifiable by their entry point into the CNS; their projections within the neuropile; the pattern, extent, and orientation of their terminal branches; and the characteristics of small "spike-like" events. At least two of these axons undergo membrane potential oscillations that are phase locked to the swimming rhythm expressed in nerve cord-body wall preparations and, at a different phase angle, also in isolated nerve cords. Thus the membrane potentials of at least two axons are phasically modulated by the periphery and hence could provide cycle-by-cycle sensory input to coordinate swimming activity. One of these neurons has a soma associated with the dorsal body wall and hence is a putative stretch receptor in dorsal longitudinal muscle. Thus the traveling body wave expressed by swimming leeches may be regulated by sensory feedback from both ventral and dorsal longitudinal muscles.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Axons* / metabolism
  • Axons* / ultrastructure
  • Cell Communication
  • Electrophysiology
  • Fluorescent Dyes / metabolism
  • Hydrazines / metabolism
  • Interneurons / cytology
  • Interneurons / metabolism
  • Leeches* / anatomy & histology
  • Leeches* / metabolism
  • Mechanoreceptors* / cytology
  • Mechanoreceptors* / metabolism
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Synapses* / metabolism
  • Synapses* / ultrastructure


  • Alexa 488 hydrazide
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Hydrazines