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J Neurophysiol. 2007 Feb;97(2):1405-12. Epub 2006 Dec 13.

In situ characterization of a rectifying electrical junction.

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Departamento Fisiología, Biología Molecular y Celular, Facultas de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Ciudad Universitaria, Pabellón II piso 2. 1428 Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Electrical synapses play significant roles in neural processing in invertebrate and vertebrate nervous systems. The view of electrical synapses as plain bidirectional intercellular channels represents a partial picture because rectifying electrical synapses expand the complexity in the communication capabilities of neurons. Rectification derives, mostly, from the sensitivity of electrical junctions to the transjunctional potential (V(j)) across the coupled cells. We analyzed the characteristics of this sensitivity and their effect on neuronal signaling, studying rectifying junctions present in the leech nervous system. The NS neurons, a pair of premotor nonspiking neurons present in each midbody ganglion, are electrically coupled to virtually every excitatory motor neuron. Studied at rest, only hyperpolarizing signals can be transmitted from NS to the motoneurons, and only depolarizing signals are conducted in the opposite direction. Our results show that small changes in the NS membrane potential (V(m)) exerted an effective control of the firing frequency of the CV motoneurons (excitor of circular muscles). This effect revealed the existence of a threshold V(j) across which the electrical synapse shifts from a nonconducting to a conducting state. The junction can operate as a relatively symmetrical bidirectional bridge provided that the transmitted signals do not cross this threshold transjunctional potential.

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