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Nature. 2012 May 2;486(7401):113-7. doi: 10.1038/nature10958.

Preferential electrical coupling regulates neocortical lineage-dependent microcircuit assembly.

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Institute of Neurobiology, State Key Laboratory of Medical Neurobiology, Fudan University, 138 Yixueyuan Road, Shanghai 200032, China.


Radial glial cells are the primary neural progenitor cells in the developing neocortex. Consecutive asymmetric divisions of individual radial glial progenitor cells produce a number of sister excitatory neurons that migrate along the elongated radial glial fibre, resulting in the formation of ontogenetic columns. Moreover, sister excitatory neurons in ontogenetic columns preferentially develop specific chemical synapses with each other rather than with nearby non-siblings. Although these findings provide crucial insight into the emergence of functional columns in the neocortex, little is known about the basis of this lineage-dependent assembly of excitatory neuron microcircuits at single-cell resolution. Here we show that transient electrical coupling between radially aligned sister excitatory neurons regulates the subsequent formation of specific chemical synapses in the neocortex. Multiple-electrode whole-cell recordings showed that sister excitatory neurons preferentially form strong electrical coupling with each other rather than with adjacent non-sister excitatory neurons during early postnatal stages. This preferential coupling allows selective electrical communication between sister excitatory neurons, promoting their action potential generation and synchronous firing. Interestingly, although this electrical communication largely disappears before the appearance of chemical synapses, blockade of the electrical communication impairs the subsequent formation of specific chemical synapses between sister excitatory neurons in ontogenetic columns. These results suggest a strong link between lineage-dependent transient electrical coupling and the assembly of precise excitatory neuron microcircuits in the neocortex.

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