The whole-body shortening reflex of the medicinal leech: motor pattern, sensory basis, and interneuronal pathways

J Comp Physiol A. 1995 Dec;177(6):667-81. doi: 10.1007/BF00187626.


The leech whole-body shortening reflex consist of a rapid contraction of the body elicited by a mechanical stimulus to the anterior of the animal. We used a variety of reduced preparations - semi-intact, body wall, and isolated nerve cord - to begin to elucidate the neural basis of this reflex in the medicinal leech Hirudo medicinalis. The motor pattern of the reflex involved an activation of excitatory motor neurons innervating dorsal and ventral longitudinal muscles (dorsal excitors and ventral excitors respectively), as well as the L cell, a motor neuron innervating both dorsal and ventral longitudinal muscles. The sensory input for the reflex was provided primarily by the T (touch) and P (pressure) types of identified mechanosensory neuron. The S cell network, a set of electrically-coupled interneurons which makes up a 'fast conducting pathway' in the leech nerve cord, was active during shortening and accounted for the shortest-latency excitation of the L cells. Other, parallel, interneuronal pathways contributed to shortening as well. The whole-body shortening reflex was shown to be distinct from the previously described local shortening behavior of the leech in its sensory threshold, motor pattern, and (at least partially) in its interneuronal basis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Leeches / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Muscle Contraction*
  • Neural Pathways
  • Reaction Time
  • Reflex*
  • Sensation / physiology*