Karen Mesce, PhD

Professor, Dept of Entomology,

Karen Mesce

Contact Info


Office Phone 612-624-3765

Professor, Dept of Entomology

Graduate Program in Neuroscience



Intra- and extracellular electrophysiology, intracellular dye injection, laser scanning confocal microscopy, immunocytochemistry, and behavioral analysis.


Research Summary/Interests

We are investigating the neural mechanisms underlying the generation of behavior in simpler invertebrate "model" systems. Currently, we are studying the structure and function of neurons in the medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis and the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta. These preparations were chosen for study because individual neurons can be identified from animal to animal and followed through development.

Many of our research projects involve an examination of how neurons change during development to give rise to adult-specific behaviors. As Manduca develops from the larval to adult form, dramatic changes in its nervous system are observed. Some larval neurons (not needed by the adult) undergo developmentally programmed cell death, while others are retained and re-modeled; their morphology and synaptic contacts become altered. In addition, many new neurons are generated de novo and are used only in the adult stage. Our goals are to understand how all of these changes, which are under hormonal regulation, contribute to the "construction" of particular adult behaviors. We have focused on the re-use of larval interneurons and the cellular mechanisms that enable "old" neurons to be incorporated into the adult nervous system to generate new behaviors.

Our methods include: intra- and extracellular electrophysiological techniques, intracellular dye injection, laser scanning confocal microscopy, immunocytochemistry, and behavioral analysis.


Auletta, A, Rue, MCP, Harley, CM & Mesce, KA 2020, ‘Tyrosine hydroxylase immunolabeling reveals the distribution of catecholaminergic neurons in the central nervous systems of the spiders Hogna lenta (Araneae: Lycosidae) and Phidippus regius (Araneae: Salticidae)’ J Comp Neurol, vol. 528, no. 2, pp. 211-230. https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.24748

Puhl, JG, Bigelow, AW, Rue, MCP & Mesce, KA 2018, ‘Functional Recovery of a Locomotor Network after Injury: Plasticity beyond the Central Nervous System’ eNeuro, vol. 5, no. 4, pii. ENEURO.0195-18.2018. https://doi.org/10.1523/ENEURO.0195-18.2018

Northcutt, AJ, Fischer, EK, Puhl, JG, Mesce, KA & Schulz, DJ 2018, ‘An annotated CNS transcriptome of the medicinal leech, Hirudo verbana: De novo sequencing to characterize genes associated with nervous system activity’ PLoS One, vol. 13, no. 7, p. e0201206. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0201206

Mesce, KA, Alania, M, Gaudry, Q & Puhl, JG 2018, ‘The stomatogastric nervous system of the medicinal leech: its anatomy, physiology and associated aminergic neurons’ J Exp Biol, vol. 221, no. 7, pii: jeb175687. https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.175687

Tedjakumala, SR, Rouquette, J, Boizeau, ML, Mesce, KA, Hotier, L, Massou, I & Giurfa, M 2017, ‘A Tyrosine-Hydroxylase Characterization of Dopaminergic Neurons in the Honey Bee Brain’ Front Syst Neurosci, vol.11, p. 47. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnsys.2017.00047

Thompson, KJ, Harley, CM, Barthel, GM, Sanders, MA & Mesce, KA 2015, ‘Plasmon resonance and the imaging of metal-impregnated neurons with the laser scanning confocal microscope’ Elife, vol. 4. pii: e09388. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.09388

Harley, CM, Reilly, MG, Stewart, C, Schlegel, C, Morley, E, Puhl, JG, Nagel, C, Crisp, KM & Mesce, KA 2015, ‘Compensatory plasticity restores locomotion after chronic removal of descending projections’ J Neurophysiol, vol. 113, no. 10, pp. 3610-22. https://doi.org/10.1152/jn.00135.2015

Olson, JF, Moon, RD, Kells, SA & Mesce, KA 2014, ‘Morphology, ultrastructure and functional role of antennal sensilla in off-host aggregation by the bed bug, Cimex lectularius’ Arthropod Struct Dev, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 117-22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.asd.2013.12.004

Puhl JG, Masino MA & Mesce KA 2012, ‘Necessary, sufficient and permissive: a single locomotor command neuron important for intersegmental coordination’ J Neurosci, vol. 32, no. 49, pp. 17646-57. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2249-12.2012

Crisp, KM, Gallagher, BR & Mesce, KA 2012, ‘Mechanisms contributing to the dopamine induction of crawl-like bursting in leech motoneurons’ J Exp Biol, vol. 215(Pt 17), pp. 3028-36. https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.069245