Physiological and morphological properties of motoneurones in the central nervous system of the leech

J Physiol. 1970 Aug;209(3):627-46. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1970.sp009183.


1. A number of motor cell bodies have been identified in the segmental ganglia of the ventral nerve cord of the medicinal leech. These motoneurones supply either excitatory or inhibitory innervation to the muscles in the body wall.2. Several tests were made to establish that each of the identified motoneurones directly innervates muscle fibres. (a) By injecting a fluorescent dye into the cell bodies of motoneurones, their axons were traced through one or both contralateral roots. (b) Electrical stimulation of a motoneurone by an intracellular electrode caused a single nerve impulse to travel through the roots to the muscles where it set up an excitatory or an inhibitory junctional potential. (c) Impulses set up in the roots were conducted antidromically to the cell body. (d) If the preparation was bathed in 20 mM-Mg(2+), which blocks chemical synapses, conduction from the cell body to the muscles was not interrupted. Thus it is unlikely that an interneurone was interposed in the pathway within the ganglion.3. Fourteen pairs of excitatory cells and three pairs of inhibitory cells can be identified in each of the twenty-one segmental ganglia. These neurones together supply the five different muscle layers in each segment which execute the movements of the leech. Each neurone innervates a territory of muscle fibres which has a consistent size and location from segment to segment. Several lines of evidence suggest that the identified cells form a major fraction of the total number of excitatory motoneurones in the ganglion.4. The territories of the motoneurones are arranged in a quilt-like pattern closely resembling that already found for the receptive fields of sensory cells on the skin. Within the longitudinal muscle sheet, individual cells supply narrow or wide strips. The firing of each cell thus could produce bending of the segment in various directions or symmetrical shortening of it, depending on which of the motoneurones were active.5. It is possible to deduce which motoneurones are firing to produce a particular movement of the animal. Thus these experiments provide a basis for studying reflex integration between motoneurones and the identified mechanosensory cells in the ganglion.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*