Functional properties of electrical synapses between inhibitory interneurons of neocortical layer 4

Jay R. Gibson, Michael Beierlein, Barry W. Connors

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

162 Scopus citations


The existence of electrical synapses between GABAergic inhibitory interneurons in neocortex is well established, but their functional properties have not been described in detail. We made whole cell recordings from pairs of electrically coupled fast-spiking (FS) or low thresholdspiking (LTS) neurons, and filled some cells with biocytin for morphological reconstruction. Data were used to create compartmental cable models and to guide mathematical analysis. We analyzed the time course and amplitude of electrical postsynaptic potentials (ePSPs), the subthreshold events generated by presynaptic action potentials, in both FS and LTS neurons. The results imply that the generation of ePSPs is predominantly a linear process in both cell types for presynaptic firing of both single and repetitive spikes. Nonlinearities shape ePSPs near spike threshold, but our data suggest that the underlying synaptic current is still a linear process. Cell-to-cell electrical signaling on longer timescales also appears to be linear. Cable models of electrically coupled FS and LTS neurons imply that the analyzed electrical synapses are, on average, within 50 μm of the soma. Finally, we show that electrical coupling between 2 inhibitory cells promotes synchrony at all spiking frequencies. This contrasts with the effect of reciprocal inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs) evoked by the same cells, which promote antisynchronous firing at frequencies less than about 100 Hz. Electrical coupling counteracts the antisynchronous behavior induced by IPSPs and facilitates spiking synchrony. Our results suggest that electrical synapses among inhibitory interneurons are most readily described as low-pass linear filters that promote firing synchrony.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)467-480
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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