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Electrical coupling between Aplysia bag cell neurons: characterization and role in synchronous firing.

Journal of neurophysiology (2014-09-05)
Zahra Dargaei, Phillip L W Colmers, Heather M Hodgson, Neil S Magoski

In neuroendocrine cells, hormone release often requires a collective burst of action potentials synchronized by gap junctions. This is the case for the electrically coupled bag cell neurons in the reproductive system of the marine snail, Aplysia californica. These neuroendocrine cells are found in two clusters, and fire a synchronous burst, called the afterdischarge, resulting in neuropeptide secretion and the triggering of ovulation. However, the physiology and pharmacology of the bag cell neuron electrical synapse are not completely understood. As such, we made dual whole cell recordings from pairs of electrically coupled cultured bag cell neurons. The junctional current was nonrectifying and not influenced by postsynaptic voltage. Furthermore, junctional conductance was voltage independent and, not surprisingly, strongly correlated with coupling coefficient magnitude. The electrical synapse also acted as a low-pass filter, although under certain conditions, electrotonic potentials evoked by presynaptic action potentials could drive postsynaptic spikes. If coupled neurons were stimulated to spike simultaneously, they presented a high degree of action potential synchrony compared with not-coupled neurons. The electrical synapse failed to pass various intracellular dyes, but was permeable to Cs(+), and could be inhibited by niflumic acid, meclofenamic acid, or 5-nitro-2-(3-phenylpropylamino)benzoic acid. Finally, extracellular and sharp-electrode recording from the intact bag cell neuron cluster showed that these pharmacological uncouplers disrupted both electrical coupling and afterdischarge generation in situ. Thus electrical synapses promote bag cell neuron firing synchrony and may allow for electrotonic spread of the burst through the network, ultimately contributing to propagation of the species.

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