Electrical synapses formed by gap junctions between neurons create networks of electrically coupled neurons in the mammalian brain, where these networks have been found to play important functional roles. In most cases, interneuronal gap junctions occur at remote dendro–dendritic contacts, making difficult accurate characterization of their physiological properties and correlation of these properties with their anatomical and morphological features of the gap junctions. In the mesencephalic trigeminal (MesV) nucleus where neurons are readily accessible for paired electrophysiological recordings in brain stem slices, our recent data indicate that electrical transmission between MesV neurons is mediated by connexin36 (Cx36)-containing gap junctions located at somato–somatic contacts. We here review evidence indicating that electrical transmission between these neurons is supported by a very small fraction of the gap junction channels present at cell–cell contacts. Acquisition of this evidence was enabled by the unprecedented experimental access of electrical synapses between MesV neurons, which allowed estimation of the average number of open channels mediating electrical coupling in relation to the average number of gap junction channels present at these contacts. Our results indicate that only a small proportion of channels (~0.1 %) appear to be conductive. On the basis of similarities with other preparations, we postulate that this phenomenon might constitute a general property of vertebrate electrical synapses, reflecting essential aspects of gap junction function and maintenance.
The Journal of Membrane Biology – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 24, 2012
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