Photoreceptors in the vertebrate retina are electrically coupled with one another. Such coupling plays important roles in visual information processing. Physiological properties of rod-rod and rod-cone coupling have been best studied in the salamander retina, yet the cellular and molecular basis of these electrical synapses has not been established. Recently, connexin35/36 (Cx35/36) gap junction proteins were found to be highly expressed in brain and retina, suggesting that it may mediate photoreceptor coupling. To test this idea, we examined the cellular distribution of Cx35/36 in the salamander retina. Western blot analysis showed the expression of Cx35/36 proteins, and confocal microscopy revealed characteristic punctate Cx35/36 immunoreactivity in both synaptic layers. In addition, Cx35/36-positive plaques were detected in the outer nuclear layer (ONL) between neighboring rods, and these plaques outlined the mosaic of the rod network at a level distal to the external limiting membrane. Moreover, although Cx35/36 plaques were detected between some cones and their adjacent rods, the number and size of these plaques was smaller, and their staining intensity was diminished compared with the plaques between adjacent rods. Furthermore, Lucifer yellow injection together with confocal microscopy revealed that Cx35/36-puncta were colocalized with finlike structures of rod cell membrane, with the ultrastructure of gap junctions between paired rod fins having been found by electron microscopy. Therefore, our findings demonstrate that Cx35/36 expression in photoreceptors is primarily located between rods and to a lesser extent between rods and cones, suggesting that Cx35/36 may participate in electrical coupling between rods and between rods and cones in the salamander retina.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.