Gap junctions provide for direct intercellular electrical and metabolic coupling. The abundance of gap junctions at “large myelinated club ending” synapses on Mauthner cells of the teleost brain provided a convenient model to correlate anatomical and physiological properties of electrical synapses. There, presynaptic action potentials were found to evoke short-latency electrical “pre-potentials” immediately preceding their accompanying glutamate-induced depolarizations, making these the first unambiguously identified “mixed” (i.e., chemical plus electrical) synapses in the vertebrate CNS. We recently showed that gap junctions at these synapses exhibit asymmetric electrical resistance (i.e., electrical rectification), which we correlated with total molecular asymmetry of connexin composition in their apposing gap junction hemiplaques, with Cx35 restricted to axon terminal hemiplaques and Cx34.7 restricted to apposing Mauthner cell plasma membranes. We now show that similarly heterotypic neuronal gap junctions are abundant throughout goldfish brain, with labeling exclusively for Cx35 in presynaptic hemiplaques and exclusively for Cx34.7 in postsynaptic hemiplaques. Moreover, the vast majority of these asymmetric gap junctions occur at glutamatergic axon terminals. The widespread distribution of heterotypic gap junctions at glutamatergic mixed synapses throughout goldfish brain and spinal cord implies that pre- vs. postsynaptic asymmetry at electrical synapses evolved early in the chordate lineage. We propose that the advantages of the molecular and functional asymmetry of connexins at electrical synapses that are so prominently expressed in the teleost CNS are unlikely to have been abandoned in higher vertebrates. However, to create asymmetric coupling in mammals, where most gap junctions are composed of Cx36 on both sides, would require some other mechanism, such as differential phosphorylation of connexins on opposite sides of the same gap junction or on asymmetric differences in the complement of their scaffolding and regulatory proteins.
Electrical synapses are abundant in the vertebrate brain, but their functional and molecular complexity are still poorly understood. We report here that electrical synapses between auditory afferents and goldfish Mauthner cells are constructed by apposition of hemichannels formed by two homologs of mammalian connexin36 (Cx36), and that while Cx35 is restricted to presynaptic hemiplaques, Cx34.7 is restricted to postsynaptic hemiplaques, forming heterotypic junctions. This molecular asymmetry is associated with rectification of electrical transmission that may act to promote cooperativity between auditory afferents. Our data suggest that in similarity to pre- and postsynaptic sites at chemical synapses, one side in electrical synapses should not necessarily be considered the mirror image of the other. While asymmetry based on the presence of two Cx36 homologs is restricted to teleost fish, it might also be based on differences in posttranslational modifications of individual connexins or in the complement of gap junction-associated proteins.
electrical transmission; connexin36; auditory; rectification; gap junction
“Dye-coupling”, whole-mount immunohistochemistry for gap junction channel protein connexin 35 (Cx35), and freeze-fracture replica immunogold labeling (FRIL) reveal an abundance of electrical synapses/gap junctions at glutamatergic mixed synapses in the 14th spinal segment that innervates the adult male gonopodium of Western Mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis (Mosquitofish). To study gap junctions’ role in fast motor behavior, we used a minimally-invasive neural-tract-tracing technique to introduce gap junction-permeant or -impermeant dyes into deep muscles controlling the gonopodium of the adult male Mosquitofish, a teleost fish that rapidly transfers (complete in <20 mS) spermatozeugmata into the female reproductive tract. Dye-coupling in the 14th spinal segment controlling the gonopodium reveals coupling between motor neurons and a commissural primary ascending interneuron (CoPA IN) and shows that the 14th segment has an extensive and elaborate dendritic arbor and more gap junctions than do other segments. Whole-mount immunohistochemistry for Cx35 results confirm dye-coupling and show it occurs via gap junctions. Finally, FRIL shows that gap junctions are at mixed synapses and reveals that >50 of the 62 gap junctions at mixed synapses are in the 14th spinal segment. Our results support and extend studies showing gap junctions at mixed synapses in spinal cord segments involved in control of genital reflexes in rodents, and they suggest a link between mixed synapses and fast motor behavior. The findings provide a basis for studies of specific roles of spinal neurons in the generation/regulation of sex-specific behavior and for studies of gap junctions’ role in regulating fast motor behavior. Finally, the CoPA IN provides a novel candidate neuron for future studies of gap junctions and neural control of fast motor behaviors.
connexin 35/36; connexins; dye-coupling; freeze-fracture replica immunogold labeling; gap junctions; mixed synapses; neurons; spinal cord
Despite the combination of light-microscopic immunocytochemistry, histochemical mRNA detection techniques and protein reporter systems, progress in identifying the protein composition of neuronal versus glial gap junctions, determination of the differential localization of their constituent connexin proteins in two apposing membranes and understanding human neurological diseases caused by connexin mutations has been problematic due to ambiguities introduced in the cellular and subcellular assignment of connexins. Misassignments occurred primarily because membranes and their constituent proteins are below the limit of resolution of light microscopic imaging techniques. Currently, only serial thin-section transmission electron microscopy and freeze-fracture replica immunogold labeling have sufficient resolution to assign connexin proteins to either or both sides of gap junction plaques. However, freeze-fracture replica immunogold labeling has been limited because conventional freeze fracturing allows retrieval of only one of the two membrane fracture faces within a gap junction, making it difficult to identify connexin coupling partners in hemiplaques removed by fracturing. We now summarize progress in ascertaining the connexin composition of two coupled hemiplaques using matched double-replicas that are labeled simultaneously for multiple connexins. This approach allows unambiguous identification of connexins and determination of the membrane “sidedness” and the identities of connexin coupling partners in homotypic and heterotypic gap junctions of vertebrate neurons.
Astrocyte; Ependymocyte; Glia; Neuron; Oligodendrocyte
Gap junction (GJ) “formation plaques” are distinct membrane domains with GJ precursors; they assemble by means of a series of defined steps. The C-terminus of Cx43 is required for normal progression of assembly, normal aggregation of 10-nm particles into small GJs, and negative regulation of assembly involving protein kinase C.
Using an established gap junction (GJ) assembly system with experimentally reaggregated cells, we analyzed “formation plaques” (FPs), apparent sites of GJ assembly. Employing freeze-fracture electron microscopy methods combined with filipin labeling of sterols and immunolabeling for connexin43 (Cx43), we demonstrated that FPs constitute distinct membrane “domains” and that their characteristic 10-nm particles contain connexin43, thus representing precursors (i.e., GJ hemichannels) engaged in assembly. Analysis of FPs in new systems—HeLa and N2A cells—resolved questions surrounding several key but poorly understood steps in assembly, including matching of FP membranes in apposed cells, reduction in the separation between FP membranes during assembly, and the process of particle aggregation. Findings also indicated that “docking” of GJ hemichannels occurs within FP domains and contributes to reduction of intermembrane separation between FPs. Other experiments demonstrated that FPs develop following a major C-terminal truncation of Cx43 (M257), although assembly was delayed. Particle aggregation also occurred at lower densities, and densities of particles within developing GJ aggregates failed to achieve full-length levels. With regard to regulation, inhibition of assembly following protein kinase C activation failed to occur in the M257 truncation mutants, as measured by intercellular dye transfer. However, several C-terminal serine mutations failed to disrupt inhibition.
Dendrodendritic electrical signaling via gap junctions is now an accepted feature of neuronal communication in mammalian brain, whereas axodendritic and axosomatic gap junctions have rarely been described. We present ultrastructural, immunocytochemical, and dye-coupling evidence for “mixed” (electrical/chemical) synapses on both principal cells and interneurons in adult rat hippocampus. Thin-section electron microscopic images of small gap junction-like appositions were found at mossy fiber (MF) terminals on thorny excrescences of CA3 pyramidal neurons (CA3pyr), apparently forming glutamatergic mixed synapses. Lucifer Yellow injected into weakly fixed CA3pyr was detected in MF axons that contacted four injected CA3pyr, supporting gap junction-mediated coupling between those two types of principal cells. Freeze-fracture replica immunogold labeling revealed diverse sizes and morphologies of connexin-36-containing gap junctions throughout hippocampus. Of 20 immunogold-labeled gap junctions, seven were large (328–1140 connexons), three of which were consistent with electrical synapses between interneurons; but nine were at axon terminal synapses, three of which were immediately adjacent to distinctive glutamate receptor-containing postsynaptic densities, forming mixed glutamatergic synapses. Four others were adjacent to small clusters of immunogold-labeled 10-nm E-face intramembrane particles, apparently representing extrasynaptic glutamate receptor particles. Gap junctions also were on spines in stratum lucidum, stratum oriens, dentate gyrus, and hilus, on both interneurons and unidentified neurons. In addition, one putative GABAergic mixed synapse was found in thin-section images of a CA3pyr, but none were found by immunogold labeling, suggesting the rarity of GABAergic mixed synapses. Cx36-containing gap junctions throughout hippocampus suggest the possibility of reciprocal modulation of electrical and chemical signals in diverse hippocampal neurons.
CA3; dentate gyrus; interneuron; pyramidal neuron; principal cell; mossy fiber; gap junction
Mammalian retinas contain abundant neuronal gap junctions, particularly in the inner plexiform layer (IPL), where the two principal neuronal connexin proteins are Cx36 and Cx45. Currently undetermined are coupling relationships between these connexins and whether both are expressed together or separately in a neuronal subtype-specific manner. Although Cx45-expressing neurons strongly couple with Cx36-expressing neurons, possibly via heterotypic gap junctions, Cx45 and Cx36 failed to form functional heterotypic channels in vitro. We now show that Cx36 and Cx45 co-expressed in Hela cells were co-localized in immunofluorescent puncta between contacting cells, demonstrating targeting/scaffolding competence for both connexins in vitro. However, Cx36 and Cx45 expressed separately did not form immunofluorescent puncta containing both connexins, supporting lack of heterotypic coupling competence. In IPL, 87% of Cx45 immunofluorescent puncta were co-localized with Cx36, supporting either widespread heterotypic coupling or bi-homotypic coupling. Ultrastructurally, Cx45 was detected in 9% of IPL gap junction hemiplaques, 90-100% of which also contained Cx36, demonstrating connexin co-expression and co-targeting in virtually all IPL neurons that express Cx45. Moreover, double-replicas revealed both connexins in separate domains mirrored on both sides of matched hemiplaques. With prior evidence that Cx36 interacts with PDZ1 domain of ZO-1, we show that Cx45 interacts with PDZ2 domain of ZO-1, and that Cx36, Cx45 and ZO-1 co-immunoprecipitate, suggesting that ZO-1 provides for co-scaffolding of Cx45 with Cx36. These data document that in Cx45-expressing neurons of IPL, Cx45 is almost always accompanied by Cx36, forming “bi-homotypic” gap junctions, with Cx45 structurally coupling to Cx45 and Cx36 coupling to Cx36.
double-replica; FRIL; heterotypic coupling; homotypic coupling; PDZ domains; SDS-FRL
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
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 vertebrate peripheral nerves, the insulating myelin sheath is formed by Schwann cells, which generate flattened membrane processes that spiral around axons and form compact myelin by extrusion of cytoplasm and adhesion of apposed intracellular and extracellular membrane surfaces. Cytoplasm remains within the innermost and outermost tongues, in the paranodal loops bordering nodes of Ranvier and in Schmidt–Lanterman incisures. By immunocytochemistry, connexin32 (Cx32) protein has been demonstrated at paranodal loops and Schmidt–Lanterman incisures, and it is widely assumed that gap junctions are present in these locations, thereby providing a direct radial route for transport of ions and metabolites between cytoplasmic myelin layers. This study used freeze-fracture replica immunogold labeling to detect Cx32 in ultrastructurally defined gap junctions in Schmidt–Lanterman incisures, as well as in a novel location, between the outer two layers of internodal myelin, approximately every micrometer along the entire length of myelin, at the zone between compact myelin and noncompact myelin. Thus, these gap junctions link the partially compacted second layer of myelin to the noncompact outer tongue. Although these gap junctions are unusually small (average, 11 connexon channels), their relative abundance and regular distribution along the zone that is structurally intermediate between compact and noncompact myelin demonstrates the existence of multiple sites for unidirectional or bidirectional transport of water, ions, and small molecules between these two distinct cytoplasmic compartments, possibly to regulate or facilitate myelin compaction or to maintain the transition zone between noncompact and compact myelin.
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease; connexon; freeze fracture; immunogold labeling; sciatic nerve; tight junction
Odorant/receptor binding and initial olfactory information processing occurs in olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) within the olfactory epithelium. Subsequent information coding involves high-frequency spike synchronization of paired mitral/tufted cell dendrites within olfactory bulb (OB) glomeruli via positive feedback between glutamate receptors and closely-associated gap junctions. With mRNA for connexins Cx36, Cx43 and Cx45 detected within ORN somata and Cx36 and Cx43 proteins reported in ORN somata and axons, abundant gap junctions were proposed to couple ORNs. We used freeze-fracture replica immunogold labeling (FRIL) and confocal immunofluorescence microscopy to examine Cx36, Cx43 and Cx45 protein in gap junctions in olfactory mucosa, olfactory nerve and OB in adult rats and mice and early postnatal rats. In olfactory mucosa, Cx43 was detected in gap junctions between virtually all intrinsic cell types except ORNs and basal cells; whereas Cx45 was restricted to gap junctions in sustentacular cells. ORN axons contained neither gap junctions nor any of the three connexins. In OB, Cx43 was detected in homologous gap junctions between almost all cell types except neurons and oligodendrocytes. Cx36 and, less abundantly, Cx45 were present in neuronal gap junctions, primarily at “mixed” glutamatergic/electrical synapses between presumptive mitral/tufted cell dendrites. Genomic analysis revealed multiple miRNA (micro interfering RNA) binding sequences in 3′-untranslated regions of Cx36, Cx43 and Cx45 genes, consistent with cell-type-specific post-transcriptional regulation of connexin synthesis. Our data confirm absence of gap junctions between ORNs, and support Cx36- and Cx45-containing gap junctions at glutamatergic mixed synapses between mitral/tufted cells as contributing to higher-order information coding within OB glomeruli.