Electrical synaptic transmission via gap junctions has become an accepted feature of neuronal communication in the mammalian brain, and occurs often between dendrites of interneurons in major brain structures, including the hippocampus. Electrical and dye-coupling has also been reported to occur between pyramidal cells in the hippocampus, but ultrastructurally-identified gap junctions between these cells have so far eluded detection. Gap junctions can be formed by nerve terminals, where they contribute the electrical component of mixed chemical/electrical synaptic transmission, but mixed synapses have only rarely been described in mammalian CNS. Here, we used immunofluorescence localization of the major gap junction forming protein connexin36 to examine its possible association with hippocampal pyramidal cells. In addition to labelling associated with gap junctions between dendrites of parvalbumin-positive interneurons, a high density of fine, punctate immunolabelling for Cx36, non-overlapping with parvalbumin, was found in subregions of the stratum lucidum in the ventral hippocampus of rat brain. A high percentage of Cx36-positive puncta in the stratum lucidum was localized to mossy fiber terminals, as indicated by co-localization of Cx36-puncta with the mossy terminal marker vesicular glutamate transporter-1, as well as with other proteins that are highly concentrated in, and diagnostic markers of, these terminals. These results suggest that mossy fiber terminals abundantly form mixed chemical/electrical synapses with pyramidal cells, where they may serve as intermediaries for the reported electrical and dye-coupling between ensembles of these principal cells.
granule cells; gap junctions; mixed electrical-chemical synapses; pyramidal cells
Auditory afferents terminating as mixed, electrical, and chemical, synapses on the goldfish Mauthner cells constitute an ideal experimental model to study the properties of gap junctions in the nervous system as well as to explore possible functional interactions with the other major form of interneuronal communication—chemically mediated synapses. By combining confocal microscopy and freeze-fracture replica immunogold labeling (FRIL), we found that gap junctions at these synapses contain connexin35 (Cx35), the fish ortholog of the neuron-specific human and mouse connexin36 (Cx36). Conductance of gap junction channels at these endings is known to be dynamically modulated by the activity of their co-localized chemically mediated glutamatergic synapses. By using simultaneous pre- and postsynaptic recordings at these single terminals, we demonstrate that such functional interaction takes place in the same ending, within a few micrometers. Accordingly, we also found evidence by confocal and FRIL double-immunogold labeling that the NR1 subunit of the NMDA glutamate receptor, proposed to be a key regulatory element, is present at postsynaptic densities closely associated with gap junction plaques containing Cx35. Given the widespread distribution of Cx35- and Cx36-mediated electrical synapses and glutamatergic synapses, our data suggest that the local functional interactions observed at these identifiable junctions may also apply to other electrical synapses, including those in mammalian brain.
Auditory; connexin36; electrical coupling; electrical synapse; gap junction; NMDA; synaptic plasticity
Auditory afferents terminating as “large myelinated club endings” on goldfish Mauthner cells are identifiable “mixed” (electrical and chemical) synaptic terminals that offer the unique opportunity to correlate physiological properties with biochemical composition and specific ultrastructural features of individual synapses. By combining confocal microscopy and freeze-fracture replica immunogold labeling (FRIL), we demonstrate that gap junctions at these synapses contain connexin35 (Cx35). This connexin is the fish ortholog of the neuron-specific human and mouse connexin36 that is reported to be widely distributed in mammalian brain and to be responsible for electrical coupling between many types of neurons. Similarly, connexin35 was found at gap junctions between neurons in other brain regions, suggesting that connexin35-mediated electrical transmission is common in goldfish brain. Conductance of gap junction channels at large myelinated club endings is known to be dynamically modulated by the activity of their colocalized glutamatergic synapses. We show evidence by confocal microscopy for the presence of the NR1 subunit of the NMDA glutamate receptor subtype, proposed to be a key regulatory element, at these large endings. Furthermore, we also show evidence by FRIL double-immunogold labeling that the NR1 subunit of the NMDA glutamate receptor is present at postsynaptic densities closely associated with gap junction plaques containing Cx35 at mixed synapses across the goldfish hindbrain. Given the widespread distribution of electrical synapses and glutamate receptors, our results suggest that the plastic properties observed at these identifiable junctions may apply to other electrical synapses, including those in mammalian brain.
gap junction; connexin36; electrical synapse; NMDA; synaptic plasticity; electrical coupling; auditory
Modulation of synapses under acute stress is attracting much attention. Exposure to acute stress induces corticosterone (CORT) secretion from the adrenal cortex, resulting in rapid increase of CORT levels in plasma and the hippocampus. We tried to test whether rapid CORT effects involve activation of essential kinases as non-genomic processes. We demonstrated rapid effects (~1 h) of CORT on the density of thorns, by imaging Lucifer Yellow-injected neurons in adult male rat hippocampal slices. Thorns of thorny excrescences of CA3 hippocampal neurons are post-synaptic regions whose presynaptic partners are mossy fiber terminals. The application of CORT at 100, 500, and 1000 nM induced a rapid increase in the density of thorns in the stratum lucidum of CA3 pyramidal neurons. Co-administration of RU486, an antagonist of glucocorticoid receptor (GR), abolished the effect of CORT. Blocking a single kinase, including MAPK, PKA, or PKC, suppressed CORT-induced enhancement of thorn-genesis. On the other hand, GSK-3β was not involved in the signaling of thorn-genesis. Blocking AMPA receptors suppressed the CORT effect. Expression of CA3 synaptic/extranuclear GR was demonstrated by immunogold electron microscopic analysis. From these results, stress levels of CORT (100–1000 nM) might drive the rapid thorn-genesis via synaptic/extranuclear GR and multiple kinase pathways, although a role of nuclear GRs cannot be completely excluded.
corticosterone; hippocampus; kinase; thorn; stress; spine
In contrast to chemical transmission, few proteins have been shown associated with gap junction-mediated electrical synapses. Mixed (electrical and glutamatergic) synaptic terminals on the teleost Mauthner cell known as “Club endings” constitute because of their unusual large size and presence of connexin 35 (Cx35), ortholog of the widespread mammalian Cx36, a valuable model for the study of electrical transmission. Remarkably, both components of their mixed synaptic response undergo activity-dependent potentiation. Changes in electrical transmission result from interactions with co-localized glutamatergic synapses, the activity of which leads to the activation of Ca++/calmodulin-dependent kinase II (CaM-KII), required for the induction of changes in both forms of transmission. However, the distribution of this kinase and potential localization to electrical synapses remains undetermined. Taking advantage of the unparalleled experimental accessibility of Club endings, we explored the presence and intraterminal distribution of CaM-KII within these terminals. Here we show: 1) unlike other proteins, both CaM-KII labeling and distribution were highly variable between contiguous contacts, and 2) CaM-KII was not restricted to the periphery of the terminals, where glutamatergic synapses are located, but also was present at the center where gap junctions predominate. Accordingly, double-immunolabeling indicated that Cx35 and CaM-KII were co-localized and biochemical analysis showed that these proteins associate. Because CaM-KII characteristically undergoes activity-dependent translocation, the observed variability of labeling likely reflects physiological differences between electrical synapses of contiguous Club endings, which remarkably co-exist with differing degrees of conductance. Taken together, our results indicate that CaM-KII should be considered a component of electrical synapses although its association is non-obligatory and likely driven by activity.
Electrical synapse; LTP; connexin 36; gap junction; synaptic plasticity; auditory afferent
Coupling of neurons by electrical synapses (gap junctions) transiently increases in the mammalian CNS during development and plays a role in a number of developmental events, including neuronal death. The coupling subsequently decreases and remains low in the adult, confined to specific subsets of neurons. In a recent study we have demonstrated that the developmental increase in neuronal gap junction coupling is regulated by the balance between the activity of two neurotransmitter receptors, group II metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluR) and GABAA receptors. Specifically, we found that activation of group II mGluRs induces the developmental increases in neuronal gap junction coupling and expression of connexin 36 (Cx36; neuronal gap junction protein) and activation of GABAA receptors counteracts to these increases. We also established that the regulation by both neurotransmitter receptors is via a neuron-restrictive silencer element in the Cx36 gene promoter and the 3′-untranslated region of the Cx36 mRNA. Importantly, we demonstrated that mechanisms for the developmental increase in neuronal gap junction coupling directly control the death/survival mechanisms in developing neurons.
gap junctions; connexin 36; metabotropic glutamate receptors; GABA receptors; neuronal death; development; electrical synapses
Coupling of neurons by electrical synapses (gap junctions) transiently increases in the mammalian CNS during development. We report here that the developmental increase in neuronal gap junction coupling and expression of connexin 36 (Cx36; neuronal gap junction protein) are regulated by an interplay between the activity of group II metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluR) and GABAA receptors. Specifically, using dye coupling, electrotonic coupling, western blots and siRNA in the rat and mouse hypothalamus and cortex in vivo and in vitro, we demonstrate that activation of group II mGluRs augments, and inactivation prevents, the developmental increase in neuronal gap junction coupling and Cx36 expression. However, changes in GABAA receptor activity have the opposite effects. The regulation by group II mGluRs is via cAMP/PKA-dependent signaling and by GABAA receptors is via Ca2+/PKC-dependent signaling. Further, the receptor-mediated up-regulation of Cx36 requires a neuron-restrictive silencer element in the Cx36 gene promoter and the down-regulation involves the 3′UTR of the Cx36 mRNA, as shown using RT-qPCR and luciferase reporter activity analysis. In addition, the MTT analysis indicates that mechanisms for the developmental increase in neuronal gap junction coupling directly control the death/survival mechanisms in developing neurons. Altogether, the results suggest a multi-tiered strategy for chemical synapses in developmental regulation of electrical synapses.
gap junctions; connexin 36; metabotropic glutamate receptors; GABAA receptors; neuronal death; electrical synapses; development
In the mammalian central nervous system (CNS), coupling of neurons by gap junctions (ie. electrical synapses) and the expression of the neuronal gap junction protein, connexin 36 (Cx36), transiently increase during early postnatal development. The levels of both subsequently decline and remain low in the adult, confined to specific subsets of neurons. However, following neuronal injury [such as ischemia, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and epilepsy], the coupling and expression of Cx36 rise. Here we summarize new findings on the mechanisms of regulation of Cx36-containing gap junctions in the developing and mature CNS and following injury. We also review recent studies suggesting various roles for neuronal gap junctions and, particularly, their role in glutamate-mediated neuronal death.
connexin 36; gap junctions; glutamate excitotoxicity; stroke; brain trauma; development
Electrotonic couplings (i.e., electrical synapses or gap junctions) are fundamental to neuronal synchronization, and thus essential for many physiological functions and pathological disorders. Interneuron electrical synapses have been studied intensively. Although studies on electrotonic couplings between pyramidal cells (PCs) are emerging, particularly in the hippocampus, evidence is still rare in the neocortex. The electrotonic coupling of PCs in the neocortex is therefore largely unknown in terms of electrophysiological, anatomical and synaptological properties. Using multiple patch-clamp recording with differential interference contrast infrared videomicroscopy (IR-DIC) visualization, histochemical staining, and 3D-computer reconstruction, electrotonic coupling was recorded between close PCs, mainly in the medial prefrontal cortex as well as in the visual cortical regions of ferrets and rats. Compared with interneuron gap junctions, these electrotonic couplings were characterized by several special features. The recording probability of an electrotonic coupling between PCs is extremely low; but the junctional conductance is notably high, permitting the direct transmission of action potentials (APs) and even tonic firing between coupled neurons. AP firing is therefore perfectly synchronized between coupled PCs; Postjunctional APs and spikelets alternate following slight changes of membrane potentials; Postjunctional spikelets, especially at high frequencies, are summated and ultimately reach AP-threshold to fire. These properties of pyramidal electrotonic couplings largely fill the needs, as predicted by simulation studies, for the synchronization of a neuronal assembly. It is therefore suggested that the electrotonic coupling of PCs plays a unique role in the generation of neuronal synchronization in the neocortex.
Electrical synapses are known to form networks of extensively coupled neurons in various regions of the mammalian brain. The mesencephalic trigeminal (MesV) nucleus, formed by the somata of primary afferents originating in jaw-closing muscles, constitutes one of the first examples supporting the presence of electrical synapses in the mammalian CNS, however, the properties, functional organization and developmental emergence of electrical coupling within this structure remain unknown. By combining electrophysiological, tracer coupling and immunochemical analysis in brain slices of rat and mouse, we found that coupling is mostly restricted to pairs or small clusters of MesV neurons. Electrical transmission is supported by connexin36 (Cx36)-containing gap junctions at somato-somatic contacts where only a small proportion of channels appear to be open (~0.1%). In marked contrast with most brain structures, coupling among MesV neurons increases with age, such that it is absent during early development and appears at postnatal day 8. Interestingly, the development of coupling parallels the development of intrinsic membrane properties responsible for repetitive firing in these neurons. We found that, acting together, sodium and potassium conductances enhance the transfer of signals with high frequency content via electrical synapses, leading to strong spiking synchronization of the coupled neurons. Taken together, our data indicate that coupling in the MesV nucleus is restricted to mostly pairs of somata between which electrical transmission is supported by a surprisingly small fraction of the channels estimated to be present, and that coupling synergically interacts with specific membrane conductances to promote synchronization of these neurons.
Electrical synapse; Connexin36; Gap Junction; electrical coupling
In primates, one type of retinal ganglion cell, the parasol cell, makes gap junctions with amacrine cells, the inhibitory, local circuit neurons. To study the effects of these gap junctions, we developed a linear, mathematical model of the retinal circuitry providing input to parasol cells. Electrophysiological studies have indicated that gap junctions do not enlarge the receptive field centres of parasol cells, but our results suggest that they make other contributions to their light responses. According to our model, the coupled amacrine cells enhance the responses of parasol cells to luminance contrast by disinhibition. We also show how a mixed chemical and electrical synapse between two sets of amacrine cells presynaptic to the parasol cells might make the responses of parasol cells more transient and, therefore, more sensitive to motion. Finally, we show how coupling via amacrine cells can synchronize the firing of parasol cells. An action potential in a model parasol cell can excite neighbouring parasol cells, but only when the coupled amacrine cells also fire action potentials. Passive conduction was ineffective due to low-pass temporal filtering. Inhibition from the axons of the coupled amacrine cells also produced oscillations that might synchronize the firing of more distant ganglion cells.
In the mammalian CNS, excessive release of glutamate and overactivation of glutamate receptors are responsible for the secondary (delayed) neuronal death following neuronal injury, including ischemia, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and epilepsy. The coupling of neurons by gap junctions (electrical synapses) increases during neuronal injury. We report here that the ischemic increase in neuronal gap junction coupling is regulated by glutamate via group II metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluR). Specifically, using electrotonic coupling, western blots and siRNA in the mouse somatosensory cortex in vivo and in vitro, we demonstrate that activation of group II mGluRs increases background levels of neuronal gap junction coupling and expression of connexin 36 (Cx36; neuronal gap junction protein) and inactivation of group II mGluRs prevents the ischemia-mediated increases in the coupling and Cx36 expression. We also show that the regulation is via cAMP/PKA-dependent signaling and post-transcriptional control of Cx36 expression and that other glutamate receptors are not involved in these regulatory mechanisms. Further, using the analysis of neuronal death, we show that inactivation of group II mGluRs or genetic elimination of Cx36 both dramatically reduce ischemia-mediated neuronal death in vitro and in vivo. Similar results are obtained using in vitro models of TBI and epilepsy. Our results indicate that neuronal gap junction coupling is a critical component of glutamate-dependent neuronal death. They also suggest that causal link among group II mGluR function, neuronal gap junction coupling and neuronal death has a universal character and operates in different types of neuronal injuries.
gap junctions; connexin 36; metabotropic glutamate receptors; neuronal death; neuronal injury; ischemia; electrical synapses
Electrical and chemical synapses provide two distinct modes of direct communication between neurons, and the embryonic development of the two is typically not simultaneous. Instead, in both vertebrates and invertebrates, gap junction-based electrical synapses arise prior to chemical synaptogenesis, and the early circuits composed of gap junction-based electrical synapses resemble those produced later by chemical synapses. This developmental sequence from electrical to chemical synapses has led to the hypothesis that in developing neuronal circuits electrical junctions are necessary forerunners of chemical synapses. Up to now it has been difficult to test this hypothesis directly, but we can identify individual neurons in the leech nervous system from before the time when synapses are first forming, so we could test the hypothesis. Using RNA interference, we transiently reduced gap junction expression in individual identified neurons during the 2–4 days when chemical synapses normally form. We found that the expected chemical synapses failed to form on schedule, and they were still missing months later when the nervous system was fully mature. We conclude that the formation of gap junctions between leech neurons is a necessary step in the formation of chemical synaptic junctions, confirming the predicted relation between electrical synapses and chemical synaptogenesis.
Innexin; Electrical Synapse; Development; Leech; Behavior; Sensory Systems
In the mammalian CNS, excessive release of glutamate and overactivation of glutamate receptors are responsible for the secondary (delayed) neuronal death following neuronal injury, including ischemia, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and epilepsy. The coupling of neurons by gap junctions (electrical synapses) increases during neuronal injury. In a recent study with the use of in vivo and in vitro models of cortical ischemia in mice, we have demonstrated that the ischemic increase in neuronal gap junction coupling is regulated by glutamate via group II metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluR). Specifically, we found that activation of group II mGluRs increases background levels of neuronal gap junction coupling and expression of connexin 36 (Cx36; neuronal gap junction protein), whereas inactivation of group II mGluRs prevents the ischemia-mediated increases in the coupling and Cx36 expression. Using the analysis of neuronal death, we also established that inactivation of group II mGluRs or genetic elimination of Cx36 both dramatically reduce ischemic neuronal death in vitro and in vivo. Similar results were obtained using in vitro models of TBI and epilepsy. Our study demonstrated that mechanisms for the injury-mediated increase in neuronal gap junction coupling are part of the mechanisms for glutamate-dependent neuronal death.
gap junctions; connexin 36; metabotropic glutamate receptors; neuronal death; ischemia; traumatic brain injury; epilepsy; electrical synapses
Gap junctions mediate metabolic and electrical interactions between some cells of the central nervous system. For many types of neurons, gap junction-mediated electrical coupling is most prevalent during early development, then decreases sharply with maturation. However, neurons in the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN), which exert powerful inhibitory control over thalamic relay cells, are electrically coupled in relatively mature animals. It is not known whether TRN cells or any neurons that are electrically coupled when mature are also coupled during early development. We used dual whole-cell recordings in mouse brain slices to study the postnatal development of electrical and chemical synapses that interconnect TRN neurons. Inhibitory chemical synapses were seen as early as postnatal day four but were infrequent at all ages, whereas TRN cells were extensively connected by electrical synapses from birth onward. Surprisingly, the functional strength of electrical coupling, assayed under steady state conditions or during spiking, remained relatively constant as the brain matured despite dramatic concurrent changes of intrinsic membrane properties. Most notably, neuronal input resistances declined almost eight-fold during the first two postnatal weeks, but there were offsetting increases in gap junctional conductances. This suggests that the size or number of gap junctions increase homeostatically to compensate for leakier nonjunctional membranes. Additionally, we found that the ability of electrical synapses to synchronize high frequency subthreshold signals improved as TRN cells matured. Our results demonstrate that certain central neurons may maintain or even increase their gap junctional communication as they mature.
gap junction; electrical synapse; connexin; development; thalamus; inhibition
Physiological properties of isolated pairs of rat hepatocytes were examined within 5 h after dissociation. These cells become round when separated, but cell pairs still display membrane specializations. Most notably, canaliculi are often present at appositional membranes which are flanked by abundant gap and tight junctions. These cell pairs are strongly dye-coupled; Lucifer Yellow CH injected into one cell rapidly diffuses to the other. Pairs of hepatocytes are closely coupled electrically. Conductance of the junctional membrane is not voltage sensitive: voltage clamp studies demonstrate that gj is constant in response to long (5 s) transjunctional voltage steps of either polarity (to greater than +/- 40 mV from rest). Junctional conductance (gj) between hepatocyte pairs is reduced by exposure to octanol (0.1 mM) and by intracellular acidification. Normal intracellular pH (pHi), measured with a liquid ion exchange microelectrode, was generally 7.1-7.4, and superfusion with saline equilibrated with 100% CO2 reduced pHi to 6.0- 6.5. In the pHi range 7.5-6.6, gj was constant. Below pH 6.6, gj steeply decreased and at 6.1 coupling was undetectable. pHi recovered when cells were rinsed with normal saline; in most cases gj recovered in parallel so that gj values were similar for pHs obtained during acidification or recovery. The low apparent pK and very steep pHi-gj relation of the liver gap junction contrast with higher pKs and more gradually rising curves in other tissues. If H+ ions act directly on the junctional molecules, the channels that are presumably homologous in different tissues must differ with respect to reactive sites or their environment.
Gap junctions between neurons function as electrical synapses, and are present in all layers of mammalian and teleost retina. These synapses are largest and most prominent between horizontal cells where they function to increase the receptive field of a single neuron beyond the width of its dendrites. Receptive field size and the extent of gap junctional coupling between horizontal cells is regulated by ambient light levels and may mediate light/dark adaptation. Furthermore, teleost horizontal cell gap junction hemichannels may facilitate a mechanism of feedback inhibition between horizontal cells and cone photoreceptors. As a prelude to using mouse genetic models to study horizontal cell gap junctions and hemichannels, we sought to determine the connexin complement of mouse horizontal cells. Cx36, Cx37, Cx43, Cx45 and Cx57 mRNA could be detected in mouse retina by RT-PCR. Microscopy was used to further examine the distribution of Cx26 and Cx36. Cx26 immunofluorescence and a β-gal reporter under regulatory control of the Cx36 promoter did not colocalize with a horizontal cell marker, indicating that these genes are not expressed by horizontal cells. The identity of the connexin(s) forming electrical synapses between mouse horizontal cells and the connexin that may form hemichannels in the horizontal cell telodendria remains unknown.
connexin26; connexin36; horizontal cell; gap junction; hemichannel
The transmembrane connexin proteins of gap junctions link extracellularly to form channels for cell-to-cell exchange of ions and small molecules. Two primary hypotheses of gap junction coupling in the CNS are the following: (1) generalized coupling occurs between neurons and glia, with some connexins expressed in both neurons and glia, and (2) intercellular junctional coupling is restricted to specific coupling partners, with different connexins expressed in each cell type. There is consensus that gap junctions link neurons to neurons and astrocytes to oligodendrocytes, ependymocytes, and other astrocytes. However, unresolved are the existence and degree to which gap junctions occur between oligodendrocytes, between oligodendrocytes and neurons, and between astrocytes and neurons. Using light microscopic immunocytochemistry and freeze–fracture replica immunogold labeling of adult rat CNS, we investigated whether four of the best-characterized CNS connexins are each present in one or more cell types, whether oligodendrocytes also share gap junctions with other oligodendrocytes or with neurons, and whether astrocytes share gap junctions with neurons. Connexin32 (Cx32) was found only in gap junctions of oligodendrocyte plasma membranes, Cx30 and Cx43 were found only in astrocyte membranes, and Cx36 was only in neurons. Oligodendrocytes shared intercellular gap junctions only with astrocytes, with each oligodendrocyte isolated from other oligodendrocytes except via astrocyte intermediaries. Finally, neurons shared gap junctions only with other neurons and not with glial cells. Thus, the different cell types of the CNS express different connexins, which define separate pathways for neuronal versus glial gap junctional communication.
astrocyte; connexin; connexon; gap junction; neuron; oligodendrocyte
In cardiac muscle, the gap junction plays a pivotal role in electrical cell-to-cell coupling and impulse propagation between cells. The function of the gap junction depends on the regulation of connexin in the gap junction channel. A dysfunction of the gap junction is possibly caused by the downregulation of connexin or one of arrhythmogenic factors. The mechanisms of ventricular fibrillation, a lethal tachyarrhythmia, have been studied in relation to the remodelling of connexin.
To determine what type of connexin 43 (Cx43) remodelling contributes to the generation of ventricular fibrillation and what factors induce the modelling of Cx43.
Aconitine-induced ventricular fibrillation was induced in hearts isolated from adult rats. Alterations in the electrical activity, the phosphorylation of Cx43 and the expression of Cx43 were evaluated by both intracellular and extracellular recording of the action potentials, Western blotting and immunohistochemistry, respectively. Flutter activity after the application of aconitine shifted spontaneously to fibrillation, showing an electrical interaction between neighbouring cells in close proximity to one another. The facility of the shift from flutter to fibrillation was evaluated as a susceptibility of the heart to fibrillation in relation to gap junction function. The effects of phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate, angiotensin II (AII) analogues, AII antagonists, the diabetic state, protein kinase A (PKA) activator, cyclic AMP analogues, d-sotalol (class III antiarrhythmic drug) and PKA inhibitors on the susceptibility of the heart to fibrillation were examined.
Pathological hearts with heterogeneous expression of Cx43 at the gap junction, such as phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate-and AII analogue-treated hearts, as well as diabetic hearts, showed a significantly higher susceptibility to fibrillation. On the other hand, hearts with augmentative expression of Cx43 at the gap junction, such as hearts pretreated with a PKA activator, a cyclic AMP analogue (8-bromo-cyclic AMP) or d-sotalol, showed a significantly lower susceptibility to fibrillation. At the beginning of fibrillation, an increase in the cardiac tissue AII level, an augmentation of the protein kinase C (PKC)-epsilon activity, the presence of PKC-mediated hyperphosphorylation, a suppression of the PKA-mediated phosphorylation of Cx43 and a reduction in the expression of Cx43 at the gap junction were observed. These alterations in Cx43 expression were also observed to increase as the fibrillation advanced.
Augmentation of PKC-mediated phosphorylation and suppression of PKA-mediated phosphorylation induces the downward remodelling of Cx43. Such remodelling of Cx43 induces asynchronous electrical activities and makes the ventricular tissue susceptible to fibrillation. PKC is activated by AII. The fibrillation itself remodels Cx43, thereby causing a vicious cycle. As a result, PKC inhibitors, AII antagonists and PKA activators are considered to possibly have a protective effect against the initiation or advancement of ventricular fibrillation.
Cardiac gap junction; PKA-mediated phosphorylation; PKC-mediated phosphorylation; Remodelling of connexin 43; Ventricular fibrillation
Electrical synapses are neuronal gap junctions that mediate fast transmission in many neural circuits [1–5]. The structural proteins of gap junctions are the products of two multigene families. Connexins are unique to chordates [3–5]; innexins/pannexins encode gap-junction proteins in prechordates and chordates [6–10]. A concentric array of six protein subunits constitutes a hemichannel; electrical synapses result from the docking of hemichannels in pre- and postsynaptic neurons. Some electrical synapses are bidirectional; others are rectifying junctions that preferentially transmit depolarizing current anterogradely [11, 12]. The phenomenon of rectification was first described five decades ago , but the molecular mechanism has not been elucidated. Here, we demonstrate that putative rectifying electrical synapses in the Drosophila Giant Fiber System  are assembled from two products of the innexin gene shaking-B. Shaking-B(Neural+16)  is required presynaptically in the Giant Fiber to couple this cell to its postsynaptic targets that express Shaking-B(Lethal) . When expressed in vitro in neighboring cells, Shaking-B(Neural+16) and Shaking-B(Lethal) form heterotypic channels that are asymmetrically gated by voltage and exhibit classical rectification. These data provide the most definitive evidence to date that rectification is achieved by differential regulation of the pre- and postsynaptic elements of structurally asymmetric junctions.
Electrical synapses (gap junctions) play a pivotal role in the synchronization of
neuronal ensembles which also makes them likely agonists of pathological brain
activity. Although large body of experimental data and theoretical
considerations indicate that coupling neurons by electrical synapses promotes
synchronous activity (and thus is potentially epileptogenic), some recent
evidence questions the hypothesis of gap junctions being among purely
epileptogenic factors. In particular, an expression of inter-neuronal gap
junctions is often found to be higher after the experimentally induced seizures
than before. Here we used a computational modeling approach to address the role
of neuronal gap junctions in shaping the stability of a network to perturbations
that are often associated with the onset of epileptic seizures. We show that
under some circumstances, the addition of gap junctions can increase the
dynamical stability of a network and thus suppress the collective electrical
activity associated with seizures. This implies that the experimentally observed
post-seizure additions of gap junctions could serve to prevent further
escalations, suggesting furthermore that they are a consequence of an adaptive
response of the neuronal network to the pathological activity. However, if the
seizures are strong and persistent, our model predicts the existence of a
critical tipping point after which additional gap junctions no longer suppress
but strongly facilitate the escalation of epileptic seizures. Our results thus
reveal a complex role of electrical coupling in relation to epileptiform events.
Which dynamic scenario (seizure suppression or seizure escalation) is ultimately
adopted by the network depends critically on the strength and duration of
seizures, in turn emphasizing the importance of temporal and causal aspects when
linking gap junctions with epilepsy.
Locus coeruleus neurons are strongly coupled during early postnatal development, and it has been proposed that these neurons are linked by extraordinarily abundant gap junctions consisting of connexin32 and connexin26, and that those same connexins abundantly link neurons to astrocytes. Based on the controversial nature of those claims, immunofluorescence imaging and freeze-fracture replica immunogold labeling were used to re-investigate the abundance and connexin composition of neuronal and glial gap junctions in developing and adult rat and mouse locus coeruleus. In early postnatal development, connexin36 and Cx43 immunofluorescent puncta were densely distributed in the locus coeruleus, whereas connexin32 and connexin26 were not detected. By freeze-fracture replica immunogold labeling, connexin36 was found in ultrastructurally-defined neuronal gap junctions, whereas connexin32 and connexin26 were not detected in neurons and only rarely detected in glia. In 28-day postnatal (adult) rat locus coeruleus, immunofluorescence labeling for connexin26 was always co-localized with the glial gap junction marker connexin43; connexin32 was associated with the oligodendrocyte marker CNPase; and connexin36 was never co-localized with connexin26, Cx32 or connexin43. Ultrastructurally, connexin36 was localized to gap junctions between neurons, whereas connexin32 was detected only in oligodendrocyte gap junctions; and Cx26 was found only rarely in astrocyte junctions but abundantly in pia mater. Thus, in developing and adult locus coeruleus, neuronal gap junctions contain connexin36 but do not contain detectable connexin32 or connexin26, suggesting that the locus coeruleus has the same cell-type specificity of connexin expression as observed ultrastructurally in other regions of the central nervous system. Moreover, in both developing and adult locus coeruleus, no evidence was found for gap junctions or connexins linking neurons with astrocytes or oligodendrocytes, indicating that neurons in this nucleus are not linked to the pan-glial syncytium by connexin32- or connexin26-containing gap junctions or by abundant free connexons composed of those connexins.
astrocytes; connexin26; connexin32; connexin43; oligodendrocytes
In the mammalian central nervous system (CNS), coupling of neurons by gap junctions (electrical synapses) increases during early postnatal development, then decreases, but increases in the mature CNS following neuronal injury, such as ischemia, traumatic brain injury and epilepsy. Glutamate-dependent neuronal death also occurs in the CNS during development and neuronal injury, i.e., at the time when neuronal gap junction coupling is increased. Here, we review our recent studies on regulation of neuronal gap junction coupling by glutamate during development and injury and on the role of gap junctions in neuronal cell death. A novel model of the mechanisms of glutamate-dependent neuronal death is discussed, which includes neuronal gap junction coupling as a critical part of these mechanisms.
Gap junctions; Connexin 36; Neuronal death; Glutamate; Excitotoxicity
Gap junctional communication in the adult CNS plays an important role in the synchronization of neuronal activities. In vitro studies have shown evidence of electrotonic coupling through gap junctions between sympathetic preganglionic motoneurons and between somatic motoneurons in the neonatal and adult rat spinal cord. Electrotonic transmission of membrane oscillations might be an important mechanism for recruitment of neurons and result in the generation of rhythmic sympathetic and somato-motor activity at the population level. Gap junctions in the adult spinal cord are constituted principally by connexin36 (Cx36). However, the distribution of Cx36 in specific neuronal populations of the spinal cord is unknown. Here, we identify Cx36-like immunoreactivity in sympathetic preganglionic and somatic motoneurons in thoracic spinal cord segments of the adult rat. For this purpose, double immunostaining against Cx36 and choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) was performed on transverse sections (20 μm) taken from spinal segments T6–T8. Cx36 punctate immunostaining was detected in the majority of ChAT-immunoreactive (-ir) neurons from lamina VII [intermediolateral cell column (IML) and intercalated cell group (IC)], lamina X [central autonomic nucleus (CA)] and in ventral horn neurons from laminae VIII and IX. Cx36 puncta were distributed in the neuronal somata and along dendritic processes. The presence of Cx36 in ChAT-ir neurons is consistent with electrical coupling between sympathetic preganglionic motoneurons and between somatic motoneurons through gap junctions in the adult spinal cord.
Sympathetic; Motoneurons; Gap junctions; Spinal cord; Rhythmic
Gap junction proteins form the substrate for electrical coupling between neurons. These electrical synapses are widespread in the central nervous system and serve a variety of important functions. In the retina, connexin 36 (Cx36) gap junctions couple AII amacrine cells and are a requisite component of the high-sensitivity rod photoreceptor pathway. AII amacrine cell coupling strength is dynamically regulated by background light intensity, and uncoupling is thought to be mediated by dopamine signaling via D1-like receptors. One proposed mechanism for this uncoupling involves dopamine-stimulated phosphorylation of Cx36 at regulatory sites, mediated by protein kinase A. Here we provide evidence against this hypothesis and demonstrate a direct relationship between Cx36 phosphorylation and AII amacrine cell coupling strength. Dopamine receptor-driven uncoupling of the AII network results from protein kinase A activation of protein phosphatase 2A and subsequent dephosphorylation of Cx36. Protein phosphatase 1 activity negatively regulates this pathway. We also find that Cx36 gap junctions can exist in widely different phosphorylation states within a single neuron, implying that coupling is controlled at the level of individual gap junctions by locally assembled signaling complexes. This kind of synapse-by-synapse plasticity allows for precise control of neuronal coupling, as well as cell type-specific responses dependent on the identity of the signaling complexes assembled.
Connexin 36 (Cx36); Electrical Synapses; Phosphorylation; Cell-Cell Coupling; Retina; Dopamine; Phosphatase