Beyond plasticity: the dynamic impact of electrical synapses on neural circuits

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2019 May;20(5):253-271. doi: 10.1038/s41583-019-0133-5.


Electrical synapses are found in vertebrate and invertebrate nervous systems. The cellular basis of these synapses is the gap junction, a group of intercellular channels that mediate direct communication between adjacent neurons. Similar to chemical synapses, electrical connections are modifiable and their variations in strength provide a mechanism for reconfiguring neural circuits. In addition, electrical synapses dynamically regulate neural circuits through properties without equivalence in chemical transmission. Because of their continuous nature and bidirectionality, electrical synapses allow electrical currents underlying changes in membrane potential to leak to 'coupled' partners, dampening neuronal excitability and altering their integrative properties. Remarkably, this effect can be transiently alleviated when comparable changes in membrane potential simultaneously occur in each of the coupled neurons, a phenomenon that is dynamically dictated by the timing of arriving signals such as synaptic potentials. By way of this mechanism, electrical synapses influence synaptic integration and action potential generation, imparting an additional layer of dynamic complexity to neural circuits.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Electrical Synapses / physiology*
  • Gap Junctions / physiology
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology