Serotonin modulates muscle function in the medicinal leech Hirudo verbana

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The body wall muscles of sanguivorous leeches power mechanically diverse behaviours: suction feeding, crawling and swimming. These require longitudinal muscle to exert force over an extremely large length range, from 145 to 46 per cent of the mean segmental swimming length. Previous data, however, suggest that leech body wall muscle has limited capacity for force production when elongated. Serotonin (5-HT) alters the passive properties of the body wall and stimulates feeding. We hypothesized that 5-HT may also have a role in allowing force production in elongated muscle by changing the shape of the length–tension relationship (LTR). LTRs were measured from longitudinal muscle strips in vitro in physiological saline with and without the presence of 10 µM 5-HT. The LTR was much broader than previously measured for leech muscle. Rather than shifting the LTR, 5-HT reduced passive muscle tonus and increased active stress at all lengths. In addition to modulating leech behaviour and passive mechanical properties, 5-HT probably enhances muscle force and work production during locomotion and feeding.


Copyright 2011 Royal Society Publishing

Publication Title

Biology Letters

Published Citation

Gerry, Shannon P. and Ellerby, David J. 2011. Serotonin modulates muscle function in the medicinal leech Hirudo verbana. Biology Letters. 7:885-888.



Peer Reviewed