The Potential Role of Gap Junctional Plasticity in the Regulation of State

Neuron. 2017 Mar 22;93(6):1275-1295. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.02.041.


Electrical synapses are the functional correlate of gap junctions and allow transmission of small molecules and electrical current between coupled neurons. Instead of static pores, electrical synapses are actually plastic, similar to chemical synapses. In the thalamocortical system, gap junctions couple inhibitory neurons that are similar in their biochemical profile, morphology, and electrophysiological properties. We postulate that electrical synaptic plasticity among inhibitory neurons directly interacts with the switching between different firing patterns in a state-dependent and type-dependent manner. In neuronal networks, electrical synapses may function as a modifiable resonance feedback system that enables stable oscillations. Furthermore, the plasticity of electrical synapses may play an important role in regulation of state, synchrony, and rhythmogenesis in the mammalian thalamocortical system, similar to chemical synaptic plasticity. Based on their plasticity, rich diversity, and specificity, electrical synapses are thus likely to participate in the control of consciousness and attention.

Keywords: cortex; electrical synapse; firing states; gap junctions; network oscillations; rhythmogenesis; state regulation; synaptic plasticity; thalamocortical system; thalamus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Electrical Synapses / physiology*
  • Gap Junctions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Thalamus / physiology*