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Morphological and electrophysiological studies have shown that granule cell axons, the mossy fibers (MFs), establish gap junctions and therefore electrical communication among them. That granule cells express gap junctional proteins in their axons suggests the possibility that their terminals also express them. If this were to be the case, mixed electrical-chemical communication could be supported, as MF terminals normally use glutamate for fast communication with their target cells. Here we present electrophysiological studies in the rat and modeling studies consistent with this hypothesis. We show that MF activation produced fast spikelets followed by excitatory postsynaptic potentials in pyramidal cells (PCs), which, unlike the spikelets, underwent frequency potentiation and were strongly depressed by activation of metabotropic glutamate receptors, as expected from transmission of MF origin. The spikelets, which persisted during blockade of chemical transmission, were potentiated by dopamine and suppressed by the gap junction blocker carbenoxolone. The various waveforms evoked by MF stimulation were replicated in a multi-compartment model of a PC by brief current-pulse injections into the proximal apical dendritic compartment, where MFs are known to contact PCs. Mixed electrical and glutamatergic communication between granule cells and some PCs in CA3 may ensure the activation of sets of PCs, bypassing the strong action of concurrent feed-forward inhibition that granule cells activate. Importantly, MF-to-PC electrical coupling may allow bidirectional, possibly graded, communication that can be faster than chemical synapses and subject to different forms of modulation. © 2011 The Authors. European Journal of Neuroscience © 2011 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


Carmen Vivar, Roger D Traub, Rafael Gutiérrez. Mixed electrical-chemical transmission between hippocampal mossy fibers and pyramidal cells. The European journal of neuroscience. 2012 Jan;35(1):76-82

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PMID: 22151275

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