Electrical synapses in the thalamic reticular nucleus

J Neurosci. 2002 Feb 1;22(3):1002-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.22-03-01002.2002.


Neurons of the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) provide inhibitory input to thalamic relay cells and generate synchronized activity during sleep and seizures. It is widely assumed that TRN cells interact only via chemical synaptic connections. However, we show that many neighboring pairs of TRN neurons in rats and mice are electrically coupled. In paired-cell recordings, electrical synapses were able to mediate close correlations between action potentials when the coupling was strong; they could modulate burst-firing states even when the coupling strength was more modest. Electrical synapses between TRN neurons were absent in mice with a null mutation for the connexin36 (Cx36) gene. Surprisingly, inhibitory chemical synaptic connections between pairs of neurons were not observed, although strong extracellular stimuli could evoke inhibition in single TRN neurons. We conclude that Cx36-dependent gap junctions play an important role in the regulation of neural firing patterns within the TRN. When combined with recent observations from the cerebral cortex, our results imply that electrical synapses are a common mechanism for generating synchrony within networks of inhibitory neurons in the mammalian forebrain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Connexins / deficiency
  • Connexins / genetics
  • Connexins / metabolism
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Gap Junctions / metabolism
  • Gap Junctions / ultrastructure
  • Heterozygote
  • Homozygote
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Intralaminar Thalamic Nuclei / cytology
  • Intralaminar Thalamic Nuclei / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure
  • Thalamic Nuclei / cytology*
  • Thalamic Nuclei / physiology*


  • Connexins
  • connexin 36