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Curr Biol. 2013 Dec 2;23(23):R1026-31. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.10.067.

Gap junctions.

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NIH-NICHD, 35 Lincoln Drive, Room 3A-102, msc 3715, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


In vertebrates and invertebrates, signaling among neurons is most commonly mediated by chemical synapses. At these synapses neurotransmitter released by presynaptic neurons is detected by receptors on the postsynaptic neurons, leading to an influx of ions through the receptors themselves or through channels activated by intracellular signaling downstream of the receptors. But neurons can communicate with each other in a more direct way, by passing signals composed of small molecules and ions through pores called gap junctions. Gap junctions that transmit electrical signals are called electrical synapses. Unlike most chemical synapses, electrical synapses interact through axon-to-axon or dendrite-to-dendrite contacts. Found throughout the nervous system, they are probably best known for linking the relatively few inhibitory, GABAergic, neurons into large, effective networks within vertebrate brains. They are particularly important early in development before the formation of most chemical synapses, but recent work shows gap junctions play important roles in the adult nervous system, too. Gap junctions are sometimes thought to be mere passageways between cells. But, as recent work shows, their properties can be complex and surprising. Gap junctions help generate, propagate, and regulate neural oscillations, can filter electrical signals, and can be modulated in a variety of ways. Here we discuss recent work highlighting the diversity and importance of gap junctions throughout the nervous system.

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