Design principles of electrical synaptic plasticity

Neurosci Lett. 2019 Mar 16:695:4-11. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2017.09.003. Epub 2017 Sep 8.


Essentially all animals with nervous systems utilize electrical synapses as a core element of communication. Electrical synapses, formed by gap junctions between neurons, provide rapid, bidirectional communication that accomplishes tasks distinct from and complementary to chemical synapses. These include coordination of neuron activity, suppression of voltage noise, establishment of electrical pathways that define circuits, and modulation of high order network behavior. In keeping with the omnipresent demand to alter neural network function in order to respond to environmental cues and perform tasks, electrical synapses exhibit extensive plasticity. In some networks, this plasticity can have dramatic effects that completely remodel circuits or remove the influence of certain cell types from networks. Electrical synaptic plasticity occurs on three distinct time scales, ranging from milliseconds to days, with different mechanisms accounting for each. This essay highlights principles that dictate the properties of electrical coupling within networks and the plasticity of the electrical synapses, drawing examples extensively from retinal networks.

Keywords: Circadian rhythm; Connexin; Electrical synapse; Phosphatase; Phosphorylation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electrical Synapses / metabolism
  • Electrical Synapses / physiology*
  • Gap Junctions / metabolism
  • Gap Junctions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology