The two largest cells in a typical ganglion of the leech (Hirudo medicinalis) nervous system are the colossal cells of Retzius. These cells show a positive chromaffin reaction, and it has been suggested that they contain 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT). In this study, the presence of 5-HT in the colossal cells was confirmed by microspectrofluorometry and by thin-layer chromatography and spectrofluorometry of extracts of individually dissected and pooled colossal cell bodies. A single colossal cell body was found to contain, on the average, 3.8 x 10-10 g (6mM) 5-HT. Electron microscopy shows that the colossal cells are distinguished by the presence of 1000 A granules with irregular, electron-opaque cores. Since the granules are distributed in the same pattern as the 5-HT fluorescence, we have suggested that they contain 5-HT. Furthermore, a chromaffin reaction modified for the electron microscope provides evidence that 5-HT is present in the granule cores. These data can now serve as a basis for further studies on the metabolism, distribution, and function of 5-HT in these identified neurons.

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