Online Lab: Leech Neurons

For the lab project I will be dissecting a leech, measuring the activity of the neurons through various tests, and determining what type of neurons they are. I will be using a micromanipulator to probe cells, a feather, probe, and forceps to test it, and then will be anatomically investigating it by injecting dye into its intracellular space and illuminating it with UV light.

Picture from "Leech." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 28 Mar 2008, 02:12 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 30 Mar 2008 < http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Leech&oldid=201480177 >.

1. What is the electrode measuring? The electrode is measuring the activity of a neuron; specifically, the potential difference across the membrane of the neuron. For this particular experiment with the leech, a glass microelectrode filled with fluorescent dyed (Lucifer Yellow) electrolytes was used to measure the nerves impulse, or the firing of an action potential, on the axons of selected neurons in the ventral nerve cord. 2. Why use leeches in neurophysiology experiments? Leaches, belonging to the Hirudinea class, have 21 segmental ganglia where most of its neurons are structured in a reoccurring arrangement and are easily identifiable. Each ganglion is composed of groups of neuronal cell bodies (T calls, P calls, N cells, etc), and each cell is found in the identical spot in every ganglion. Since they are located in the same spot, it makes the leeches nervous system very simple compared to some of the more involved vertebrate systems. Leech neurons are large in size and tough; as a result they are easy to view under a microscope, they can withstand the penetration from the microelectrode, and they fair better throughout time with the lack of oxygen. Also, leeches do not have an abundance of neurons which makes them favorable subjects. 3. What is the difference between a sensory and a motor neuron? The sensory neurons are responsible for delivering messages (nerve impulses) from a receptor (responsible for detecting environmental changes) to the central nervous system. Motor neurons are responsible for delivering messages (nerve impulses) from the central nervous system to a specific effector (responsible for executing reaction to environmental change).

4. Do you think a leech experiences pain? What is pain? Yes, I think leeches experience pain. Despite their simplistic nature they do possess a brain, ventral nerve cord, and ganglia containing neurons; so if you have a nervous system and are conscious, you will feel pleasure and pain. Leeches have sensory neurons (and receptors) capable of recognizing environmental changes and motor neurons capable of transporting impulses to effectors, which is what one needs to effectively recognize/feel, and react to pain. For the experiment we anesthetized the leech in 20% ethanol solution which acted like an anesthesia because the leech breathe through their skin. I would describe pain as an emotionally unpleasant event associated with organ (tissue) damage, pain nerve damage, or the stimulation of a nerve receptor. Pain activates behaviors, both physically and mentally, to try and stop the experience. 5. What were the two most interesting things about doing this lab? I really enjoyed the anatomical investigation part of the lab experiment when I administered the fluorescent dye into the neurons (intracellular space) and then illuminated them with the UV light. Also, I liked that the lab made you go through all of the prep steps before the actual experiment: anesthetizing the leech, removing its guts and connective tissue to be able to observe the ganglia, and then cutting the ganglion sinus. 6. Anything you found confusing or didn't like about the lab? Not at all. This lab was creative and simple. The online lab instructions were very easy to follow.

Cell Type Atlas
ventral surface of a segmental ganglion

Picture from http://www2.cedarcrest.edu/academic/bio/kfitzgerald/research/leech.html

Using the micromanipulator tip to probe the cell

After electrophysiology, I started the anatomical investigation by injecting dye into intracellular space and illuminating it with UV light

Using the micromanipulator tip to probe the cell

After electrophysiology, I started the anatomical investigation by injecting dye into intracellular space and illuminating it with UV light

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.