The presence of direct, cytoplasmatic, communication between neurons in the brain of vertebrates has been demonstrated a long time ago. These gap junctions have been characterized in many brain areas in terms of subunit composition, biophysical properties, neuronal connectivity patterns, and developmental regulation. Although interesting findings emerged, showing that different subunits are specifically regulated during development, or that excitatory and inhibitory neuronal networks exhibit various electrical connectivity patterns, gap junctions did not receive much further interest. Originally, it was believed that gap junctions represent simple passageways for electrical and biochemical coordination early in development. Today, we know that gap junction connectivity is tightly regulated, following independent developmental patterns for excitatory and inhibitory networks. Electrical connections are important for many specific functions of neurons, and are, for example, required for the development of neuronal stimulus tuning in the visual system. Here, we integrate the available data on neuronal connectivity and gap junction properties, as well as the most recent findings concerning the functional implications of electrical connections in the developing thalamus and neocortex.
- Electrical synapse
- Gap junctions