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The growing realization that electrical coupling is present in the mammalian brain has sparked renewed interest in determining its functional significance and contrasting it with chemical transmission. One question of interest is whether the two types of transmission can be selectively regulated, e.g., if a cell makes both types of connections can electrical transmission occur in the absence of chemical transmission? We explore this issue in an experimentally advantageous preparation. B21, the neuron we study, is an Aplysia sensory neuron involved in feeding that makes electrical and chemical connections with other identified cells. Previously we demonstrated that chemical synaptic transmission is membrane potential dependent. It occurs when B21 is centrally depolarized prior to and during peripheral activation, but does not occur if B21 is peripherally activated at its resting membrane potential. In this article we study effects of membrane potential on electrical transmission. We demonstrate that maximal potentiation occurs in different voltage ranges for the two types of transmission, with potentiation of electrical transmission occurring at more hyperpolarized potentials (i.e., requiring less central depolarization). Furthermore, we describe a physiologically relevant type of stimulus that induces both spiking and an envelope of depolarization in the somatic region of B21. This depolarization does not induce functional chemical synaptic transmission but is comparable to the depolarization needed to maximally potentiate electrical transmission. In this study we therefore characterize a situation in which electrical and chemical transmission can be selectively controlled by membrane potential.


Colin G Evans, Bjoern Ch Ludwar, Timothy Kang, Elizabeth C Cropper. Effect of presynaptic membrane potential on electrical vs. chemical synaptic transmission. Journal of neurophysiology. 2011 Aug;106(2):680-9

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PMID: 21593394

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