Electrical synapses between α-type ganglion cells were detected using combined techniques of dual patch-clamp recordings, intracellular labeling, electron microscopy, and channel subunit connexin immunocytochemistry in the albino rat retina. After intracellular injection of Neurobiotin into α-cells of inner (ON-center) and outer (OFF-center) ramifying types, measurement of tracer coupling resulted in a preferentially homologous occurrence among cells of the same morphological type (n = 19 of 24). In high-voltage as well as conventional electron microscopic analysis, direct dendrodendritic gap junctions (average size, 0.86 μm long) were present in contact sites between tracer-coupled α-cells. In simultaneous dual whole-cell recordings from pairs of neighboring α-cells, these cells generated TTX-sensitive sustained spiking against extrinsic current injection, and bidirectional electrical synapses (maximum coupling coefficient, 0.32) with symmetrical junction conductance (average, 1.35 nS) were observed in pairs with cells of the same morphological type. Precise temporal synchronization of spike activity (average time delay, 2.7 msec) was detected when depolarizing currents were simultaneously injected into the pairs. To address whether physiologically identified electrical synapses constitute gap junctional connectivity between cell pairs, identified neuronal connexin36 immunoreactivity was undertaken in Lucifer yellow-labeled cell pairs after patch-clamp recordings. All α-cells expressed connexin36, and confocal laser-scanning imaging demonstrated that connexin36 is primarily located at dendritic crossings between electrically coupled cells (seven sites in a pair, on average). These results give conclusive evidence for electrical synapses via dendrodendritic gap junctions involving connexin36 in α retinal ganglion cells of the same physiological type.
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