During the consummatory phase of feeding, in which blood is ingested, medicinal leeches display a characteristic set of behaviours: they extend their jaws, are less responsive to sensory input, produce mucus, relax the body wall and exhibit waves of peristalsis that can run the length of the body. Earlier reports suggested that this pattern of behaviour is orchestrated by serotonin released from Retzius cells in response to the appropriate sensory stimulation of the lip. We have developed a semi-intact preparation in which only the nervous system in the posterior half of the leech was exposed. The front half of the leech was free to explore, bite through and feed until satiated from a blood-filled sausage casing while continuous intracellular and extracellular recordings were made from identified cells and the nerve roots of the exposed segments. Prior to attachment of the animal to the feeding device, the firing frequency of the Retzius cell increased transiently during spontaneous movements or tactile stimuli to its front or posterior end. In contrast, Retzius cell activity decreased after the anterior sucker attached to the membrane of the feeding device at about the time when ingestion was initiated. Increased activity of Leydig cells, which are known to modulate several circuits in the leech, was also associated with exploration. However, unlike that of Retzius cells, the activity of Leydig cells increased significantly following the onset of consumption. These results suggest that increased activity of Retzius cells in midbody ganglia is not a prerequisite for the consummatory phase of feeding and raises questions regarding the role of serotonin in regulating this behaviour.

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