Small bite, large impact-saliva and salivary molecules in the medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis.

15:15 EDT 3rd September 2015 | BioPortfolio

Summary of "Small bite, large impact-saliva and salivary molecules in the medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis."

Blood-sucking leeches have been used for medical purposes in humans for hundreds of years. Accordingly, one of the most prominent species has been named Hirudo medicinalis by Carl Linne in 1758. Feeding on vertebrate blood poses some serious problems to blood-sucking ectoparasites, as they have to penetrate the body surface of the host and to suppress the normal reactions of the host to such injuries (swelling, pain, inflammation) to remain undetected during the feeding period. Furthermore, the parasites have to take measures to inhibit the normal reactions in host tissues to blood vessel damage, namely hemostasis and blood coagulation (platelet aggregation and activation, activation of thrombin and formation of fibrin clots). During evolution, leeches have acquired the ability to control these processes in their hosts by transferring various bioactive substances to the host. These substances are supposedly produced in unicellular salivary gland cells and injected into the wound at the feeding site through tiny salivary ductule openings in the jaws that the leech uses to slice open the host body surface and to cut blood vessels in the depth of the wound. This review summarizes current knowledge about the salivary gland cells and the biological effects of individual saliva components as well as hints to the potential usefulness of some of these compounds for medical purposes.


Animal Physiology and Biochemistry, Zoological Institute, Ernst Moritz Arndt-University, Biotechnikum, Walther Rathenau-Strasse 49 a, 17489, Greifswald, Germany,

Journal Details

This article was published in the following journal.

Name: Die Naturwissenschaften
ISSN: 1432-1904


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