Higher network activity induced by tactile compared to electrical stimulation of leech mechanoreceptors

Elham Fathiazar, Gerrit Hilgen, Jutta Kretzberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


The tiny ensemble of neurons in the leech ganglion can discriminate the locations of touch stimuli on the skin as precisely as a human fingertip. The leech uses this ability to locally bend the body-wall away from the stimulus. It is assumed that a three-layered feedforward network of pressure mechanoreceptors, interneurons, and motor neurons controls this behavior. Most previous studies identified and characterized the local bend network based on electrical stimulation of a single pressure mechanoreceptor, which was sufficient to trigger the local bend response. Recent studies showed, however, that up to six mechanoreceptors of three types innervating the stimulated patch of skin carry information about both touch intensity and location simultaneously. Therefore, we hypothesized that interneurons involved in the local bend network might require the temporally concerted inputs from the population of mechanoreceptors representing tactile stimuli, to decode the tactile information and to provide appropriate synaptic inputs to the motor neurons. We examined the influence of current injection into a single mechanoreceptor on activity of postsynaptic interneurons in the network and compared it to responses of interneurons to skin stimulation with different pressure intensities. We used voltage-sensitive dye imaging to monitor the graded membrane potential changes of all visible cells on the ventral side of the ganglion. Our results showed that stimulation of a single mechanoreceptor activates several local bend interneurons, consistent with previous intracellular studies. Tactile skin stimulation, however, evoked a more pronounced, longer-lasting, stimulus intensity-dependent network dynamics involving more interneurons. We concluded that the underlying local bend network enables a non-linear processing of tactile information provided by population of mechanoreceptors. This task requires a more complex network structure than previously assumed, probably containing polysynaptic interneuron connections and feedback loops. This small, experimentally well-accessible neuronal system highlights the general importance of selecting adequate sensory stimulation to investigate the network dynamics in the context of natural behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article number173
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


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