Voltage-Dependent Enhancement of Electrical Coupling by a Subthreshold Sodium Current

Sebastián Curti, Alberto E. Pereda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Voltage-dependent changes in electrical coupling are often attributed to a direct effect on the properties of gap junction channels. Identifiable auditory afferents terminate as mixed (electrical and chemical) synapses on the distal portion of the lateral dendrite of the goldfish Mauthner cells, a pair of large reticulospinal neurons involved in the organization of sensory-evoked escape responses. At these afferents, the amplitude of the coupling potential produced by the retrograde spread of signals from the postsynaptic Mauthner cell is dramatically enhanced by depolarization of the presynaptic terminal. We demonstrate here that this voltage-dependent enhancement of electrical coupling does not represent a property of the junctions themselves but the activation of a subthreshold sodium current present at presynaptic terminals that acts to amplify the synaptic response. We also provide evidence that this amplification operates under physiological conditions, enhancing synaptic communication from the Mauthner cells to the auditory afferents where electrical and geometrical properties of the coupled cells are unfavorable for retrograde transmission. Retrograde electrical communication at these afferents may play an important functional role by promoting cooperativity between afferents and enhancing transmitter release. Thus, the efficacy of an electrical synapse can be dynamically modulated in a voltage-dependent manner by properties of the nonjunctional membrane. Finally, asymmetric amplification of electrical coupling by intrinsic membrane properties, as at the synapses between auditory afferents and the Mauthner cell, may ensure efficient communication between neuronal processes of dissimilar size and shape, promoting neuronal synchronization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3999-4010
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 21 2004


  • Auditory
  • Electrical synapse
  • Gap junctions
  • Mauthner
  • Persistent sodium current
  • Synaptic plasticity
  • Synchronization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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