Different properties of synapses between a single sensory neurone and two different motor cells in the leech C.N.S

K. J. Muller, J. G. Nicholls

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In leech ganglia, an individual sensory cell that responds specifically to noxious mechanical stimulation of the skin (N cell) excites two different motoneurones. One raises the annuli of the skin into ridges (the AE cell), while the other innervates longitudinal muscles and thereby shortens the body segment (L cell). A comparison has been made of the way in which these 2 synapses behave when their common presynaptic cell is stimulated in various conditions. Using previously described criteria, N sensory cells have been shown to make monosynaptic chemical connexions with both the AE and L motoneurones. Following a single stimulus, the excitatory synaptic potential recorded in the AE motoneurone was only about one tenth the size of that in the L cell (approximately 0.5 mV compared to 5 mV). Trains of impulses in the same N sensory cell gave rise to synaptic potentials in the AE and the L motoneurones that underwent phases of facilitation and depression; the facilitation, however, was characteristically greater and longer lasting at synapses upon the AE motoneurone. The differences between the two synapses were accentuated in Ringer fluid containing increased concentrations of Ca and also in the cold. Under both of these conditions repetitive firing by the N sensory cell could give rise to synaptic potentials in the AE motoneurone which progressively increased in amplitude, while those in the L motoneurone became smaller. The results suggest that the differences in synaptic transmission can be accounted for by variations in the amount of transmitter released at the presynaptic N cell terminals, rather than by differences in the post synaptic cells. The animal's behavior corresponds to expectations from the physiology of the synapses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-369
Number of pages13
JournalThe Journal of Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 1974
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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