A systematic study has been made of the sensitivity of identified sensory and motoneurons in the leech central nervous system to chemical transmitter substances. The following substances elicited responses from the cell bodies of individual neurons: acetylcholine, 5-hydroxytryptamine, γ-aminobutyric acid, glutamic acid, glycine, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Since the cell bodies of leech neurons are free of synapses, the receptors that give rise to these responses are extrasynaptic. Sensory and motoneurons of different function had characteristic complements of extrasynaptic receptors. For example, mechanosensory cells responding to light touch, to pressure, and to noxious stimuli could be distinguished by their responses to iontophoretically applied compounds. For one of these modalities (nociceptive), neurons with different receptive fields but otherwise similar properties had markedly distinct extrasynaptic receptors. The possible significance of extrasynaptic receptors is discussed.
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