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
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.
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. 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
Electrical synapses between interneurons contribute to synchronized firing and network oscillations in the brain. However, little is known about how such networks respond to excitatory synaptic input. To investigate this, we studied electrically coupled Golgi cells (GoC) in the cerebellar input layer. We show with immunohistochemistry, electron microscopy, and electrophysiology that Connexin-36 is necessary for functional gap junctions (GJs) between GoC dendrites. In the absence of coincident synaptic input, GoCs synchronize their firing. In contrast, sparse, coincident mossy fiber input triggered a mixture of excitation and inhibition of GoC firing and spike desynchronization. Inhibition is caused by propagation of the spike afterhyperpolarization through GJs. This triggers network desynchronization because heterogeneous coupling to surrounding cells causes spike-phase dispersion. Detailed network models predict that desynchronization is robust, local, and dependent on synaptic input properties. Our results show that GJ coupling can be inhibitory and either promote network synchronization or trigger rapid network desynchronization depending on the synaptic input.
► Gap junctions (GJ) are made between Golgi cell dendrites and depend on Cx36 ► GJs mediate surround inhibition by preferentially propagating spike AHPs ► Sparse synaptic excitation desynchronizes GJ-coupled Golgi cell networks ► Desynchronization arises from network heterogeneity and is stimulus dependent
SYSNEURO; MOLNEURO; SIGNALING
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
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
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
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.
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 containing connexin-36 (Cx36) electrically couple interneurons in many brain regions and synchronize their activity. We used Cx36 knockout mice (Cx36−/−) to study the importance of electrical coupling between interneurons for spatial coding in the hippocampus and for different forms of hippocampus-dependent spatial memory. Recordings in behaving mice revealed that the spatial selectivity of hippocampal pyramidal neurons was reduced and less stable in Cx36−/− mice. Altered network activity was reflected in slower theta oscillations in the mutants. Temporal coding, assessed by determining the presence and characteristics of theta phase precession, had different dynamics in Cx36−/− mice compared to controls. At the behavioral level, Cx36−/− mice displayed impaired short-term spatial memory but normal spatial reference memory. These results highlight the functional role of electrically coupled interneurons for spatial coding and cognition. Moreover, they suggest that the precise spatial selectivity of place cells is not essential for normal performance on spatial tasks assessing associative long-term memory.
gap junctions; connexin-36; theta; hippocampus; spatial memory
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.
Electrically coupled inhibitory interneurons dynamically control network excitability, yet little is known about how chemical and electrical synapses regulate their activity. Using two-photon glutamate uncaging and dendritic patch-clamp recordings, we found that the dendrites of cerebellar Golgi interneurons acted as passive cables. They conferred distance-dependent sublinear synaptic integration and weakened distal excitatory inputs. Gap junctions were present at a higher density on distal dendrites and contributed substantially to membrane conductance. Depolarization of one Golgi cell increased firing in its neighbors, and inclusion of dendritic gap junctions in interneuron network models enabled distal excitatory synapses to drive network activity more effectively. Our results suggest that dendritic gap junctions counteract sublinear dendritic integration by enabling excitatory synaptic charge to spread into the dendrites of neighboring inhibitory interneurons.
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
Among the 20 members in the connexin family of gap junction proteins, only connexin36 (Cx36) is firmly established to be expressed in neurons and to form electrical synapses at widely distributed interneuronal gap junctions in mammalian brain. Several connexins have recently been reported to interact with the PDZ domain-containing protein zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1), which was originally considered to be associated only with tight junctions, but has recently been reported to associate with other structures including gap junctions in various cell types. Based on the presence of sequence corresponding to a putative PDZ binding motif in Cx36, we investigated anatomical relationships and molecular association of Cx36 with ZO-1. By immunofluorescence, punctate Cx36/ZO-1 colocalization was observed throughout the central nervous system of wild-type mice, whereas labelling for Cx36 was absent in Cx36 knockout mice, confirming the specificity of the anti-Cx36 antibodies employed. By freeze-fracture replica immunogold labelling, Cx36 and ZO-1 in brain were found colocalized within individual ultrastructurally identified gap junction plaques, although some plaques contained only Cx36 whereas others contained only ZO-1. Cx36 from mouse brain and Cx36-transfected HeLa cells was found to coimmunoprecipitate with ZO-1. Unlike other connexins that bind the second of the three PDZ domains in ZO-1, glutathione S-transferase-PDZ pull-down and mutational analyses indicated Cx36 interaction with the first PDZ domain of ZO-1, which required at most the presence of the four c-terminus amino acids of Cx36. These results demonstrating a Cx36/ZO-1 association suggest a regulatory and/or scaffolding role of ZO-1 at gap junctions that form electrical synapses between neurons in mammalian brain.
connexins; electrical synapses; gap junction; neurons; retina
Connexin 36 (Cx36)-containing electrical synapses contribute to the timing and amplitude of neural responses in many brain regions. A Cx36-EGFP transgenic was previously generated to facilitate their identification and study. In this study we demonstrate that electrical coupling is normal in transgenic mice expressing Cx36 from the genomic locus and suggest that fluorescent puncta present in brain tissue represent distributed electrical synapses. These qualities emphasize the usefulness of the Cx36-EGFP reporter as a tool for the detailed anatomical characterization of electrical synapses in fixed and living tissue. However, though the fusion protein is able to form gap junctions between Xenopus laevis oocytes it is unable to restore electrical coupling to interneurons in the Cx36-deficient mouse. Further experiments in transgenic tissue and non-neural cell lines reveal impaired transport to the plasma membrane as the possible cause. By analyzing the functional deficits exhibited by the fusion protein in vivo and in vitro, we identify a motif within Cx36 that may interact with other trafficking or scaffold proteins and thereby be responsible for its incorporation into electrical synapses.
Connexin 36; Electrical synapse; Gap junction; Assembly; Transgenic; Intercellular channel; ZO-1
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.
Synchronous firing is commonly observed in the brain, but its underlying mechanisms and neurobiological meaning remain debated. Most commonly, synchrony is attributed either to electrical coupling by gap junctions or to shared excitatory inputs. In the cerebral cortex and hippocampus, fast-spiking (FS) or somatostatin–containing (SOM) inhibitory interneurons are electrically coupled to same-type neighbors, and each subtype-specific network tends to fire in synchrony. Electrical coupling across subtypes is weak or absent, but SOM-FS and FS-FS pairs are often connected by inhibitory synapses. Theoretical studies suggest that purely inhibitory coupling can also promote synchrony; however, this has not been confirmed experimentally. We recorded from 74 pairs of electrically non-coupled layer 4 interneurons in mouse somatosensory cortex in vitro, and found that tonically depolarized FS-FS and SOM-FS pairs connected by uni- or bidirectional inhibitory synapses often fired within one millisecond of each other. Using a novel, jitter-based measure of synchrony, we found that synchrony correlated with inhibitory coupling strength. Importantly, synchrony was resistant to ionotropic glutamate receptors antagonists but was strongly reduced when GABAA receptors were blocked, confirming that in our experimental system IPSPs were both necessary and sufficient for synchrony. Submillisecond firing lags emerged in a computer simulation of pairs of spiking neurons, in which the only assumed interaction between neurons was by inhibitory synapses. We conclude that cortical interneurons are capable of synchronizing both within and across subtypes, and that submillisecond coordination of firing can arise by mutual synaptic inhibition alone, with neither shared inputs nor electrical coupling.
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.
Sensitization of reflexive shortening in the leech has been linked to serotonin (5-HT)-induced changes in the excitability of a single interneuron, the S cell. This neuron is necessary for sensitization and complete dishabituation of reflexive shortening, during which it contributes to the sensory-motor reflex. The S cell does not contain 5-HT, which is released primarily from the Retzius (R) cells, whose firing enhances S-cell excitability. Here we show that the S cell excites the R cells, mainly via a fast disynaptic pathway in which the first synapse is the electrical junction between the S cell and the coupling interneurons, and the second synapse is a glutamatergic synapse of the coupling interneurons onto the R cells. The S cell-triggered excitatory postsynaptic potential in the R cell diminishes and nearly disappears in elevated concentrations of divalent cations because the coupling interneurons become inexcitable under these conditions. Serotonin released from the R cells feeds back upon the S cell and increases its excitability by activating a 5-HT7-like receptor; 5-methoxytryptamine (5-MeOT; 10 μM) mimics the effects of 5-HT on S cell excitability, and effects of both 5-HT and 5-MeOT are blocked by pimozide (10 μM) and SB-269970 (5 μM). This feedback loop may be critical for the full expression of sensitization of reflexive shortening.
serotonin; serotonin receptor; electrical coupling; shortening; reflex; circuits
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
In addition to chemical synaptic transmission, neurons that are connected by gap junctions can also communicate rapidly via electrical synaptic transmission. Increasing evidence indicates that gap junctions not only permit electrical current flow and synchronous activity between interconnected or coupled cells, but that the strength or effectiveness of electrical communication between coupled cells can be modulated to a great extent1,2. In addition, the large internal diameter (~1.2 nm) of many gap junction channels permits not only electric current flow, but also the diffusion of intracellular signaling molecules and small metabolites between interconnected cells, so that gap junctions may also mediate metabolic and chemical communication. The strength of gap junctional communication between neurons and its modulation by neurotransmitters and other factors can be studied by simultaneously electrically recording from coupled cells and by determining the extent of diffusion of tracer molecules, which are gap junction permeable, but not membrane permeable, following iontophoretic injection into single cells. However, these procedures can be extremely difficult to perform on neurons with small somata in intact neural tissue.
Numerous studies on electrical synapses and the modulation of electrical communication have been conducted in the vertebrate retina, since each of the five retinal neuron types is electrically connected by gap junctions3,4. Increasing evidence has shown that the circadian (24-hour) clock in the retina and changes in light stimulation regulate gap junction coupling3-8. For example, recent work has demonstrated that the retinal circadian clock decreases gap junction coupling between rod and cone photoreceptor cells during the day by increasing dopamine D2 receptor activation, and dramatically increases rod-cone coupling at night by reducing D2 receptor activation7,8. However, not only are these studies extremely difficult to perform on neurons with small somata in intact neural retinal tissue, but it can be difficult to adequately control the illumination conditions during the electrophysiological study of single retinal neurons to avoid light-induced changes in gap junction conductance.
Here, we present a straightforward method of determining the extent of gap junction tracer coupling between retinal neurons under different illumination conditions and at different times of the day and night. This cut-loading technique is a modification of scrape loading9-12, which is based on dye loading and diffusion through open gap junction channels. Scrape loading works well in cultured cells, but not in thick slices such as intact retinas. The cut-loading technique has been used to study photoreceptor coupling in intact fish and mammalian retinas7, 8,13, and can be used to study coupling between other retinal neurons, as described here.
Neuroscience; Issue 59; retina; photoreceptors; gap junctions; tracer coupling; neurobiotin; labeling