A novel mechanism for switching a neural system from one state to another

Front Comput Neurosci. 2010 Mar 31;4:2. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2010.00002. eCollection 2010.


An animal's ability to rapidly adjust to new conditions is essential to its survival. The nervous system, then, must be built with the flexibility to adjust, or shift, its processing capabilities on the fly. To understand how this flexibility comes about, we tracked a well-known behavioral shift, a visual integration shift, down to its underlying circuitry, and found that it is produced by a novel mechanism - a change in gap junction coupling that can turn a cell class on and off. The results showed that the turning on and off of a cell class shifted the circuit's behavior from one state to another, and, likewise, the animal's behavior. The widespread presence of similar gap junction-coupled networks in the brain suggests that this mechanism may underlie other behavioral shifts as well.

Keywords: adaptation; attention; cable theory; gap junction; horizontal cell; network shift; shunt; state change.