The kinetics of tracer movement through homologous gap junctions in the rabbit retina

Vis Neurosci. 1998 Jul-Aug;15(4):765-77. doi: 10.1017/s0952523898154159.


Observation of the spread of biotinylated or fluorescent tracers following injection into a single cell has become one of the most common methods of demonstrating the presence of gap junctions. Nevertheless, many of the fundamental features of tracer movement through gap junctions are still poorly understood. These include the relative roles of diffusion and iontophoretic current, and under what conditions the size of the stained mosaic will increase, asymptote, or decline. Additionally, the effect of variations in amount of tracer introduced, as produced by variation in electrode resistance following cell penetration, is not obvious. To examine these questions, Neurobiotin was microinjected into the two types of horizontal cell of the rabbit retina and visualized with streptavidin-Cy3. Images were digitally captured using a confocal microscope. The spatial distribution of Neurobiotin across the patches of coupled cells was measured. Adequate fits to the data were obtained by fitting to a model with terms for diffusion and amount of tracer injected. Results indicated that passive diffusion is the major source of tracer movement through gap junctions, whereas iontophoretic current played no role over the range tested. Fluorescent visualization, although slightly less sensitive than peroxidase reactions, produced staining intensities with a more useful dynamic range. The rate constants for movement of Neurobiotin between A-type horizontal cells was about ten times greater than that for B-type horizontal cells. Although direct extrapolation to ion conductances cannot be assumed, tracer movement can be used to give an estimate of relative coupling rates across cell types, retinal location, or modulation conditions in intact tissue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biotin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Biotin / pharmacokinetics
  • Connexins
  • Diffusion
  • Fluorescent Dyes / metabolism
  • Gap Junctions / metabolism*
  • Injections
  • Iontophoresis
  • Isoquinolines / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Rabbits
  • Retina / metabolism*


  • Connexins
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Isoquinolines
  • neurobiotin
  • Biotin
  • lucifer yellow