Electrical synaptic transmission via gap junctions underlies direct and rapid neuronal communication in the central nervous system. The diversity of functional roles played by electrical synapses is perhaps best exemplified in the vertebrate retina, in which gap junctions are expressed by each of the five major neuronal types. These junctions are highly plastic; they are dynamically regulated by ambient illumination and circadian rhythms acting through light-activated neuromodulators. The networks formed by electrically coupled neurons provide plastic, reconfigurable circuits positioned to play key and diverse roles in the transmission and processing of visual information at every retinal level. Recent work indicates gap junctions also play a role in the progressive cell death and aberrant activity seen in various pathological conditions of the retina. Gap junctions thus form potential targets for novel neuroprotective therapies in the treatment of neurodegenerative retinal diseases such as glaucoma and ischemic retinopathies.
Keywords: connexins; electrical synapses; gap junctions; neurodegeneration; retina.