Data_Sheet_1_A Direct Comparison of Different Measures for the Strength of Electrical Synapses.docx
During the last decades it became increasingly evident that electrical synapses are capable of activity-dependent plasticity. However, measuring the actual strength of electrical transmission remains difficult. Usually changes in coupling strength can only be inferred indirectly from measures such as the coupling coefficient and the coupling conductance. Because these are affected by both junctional and non-junctional conductance, plastic changes can potentially be due to both components. Furthermore, these techniques also require the blocking of chemical transmission, so that processes that involve crosstalk between chemical and electrical synapses will be suppressed. To directly examine the magnitude of errors that can occur, we use dual whole-cell current- and voltage-clamp recordings from the soma of the pair of easily accessible, electrically coupled Retzius cells in the leech to simultaneously determine coupling coefficients, coupling conductances and directly measured gap junctional currents. We present the first direct and comparative analysis of gap junction conductance using all three methods and analyze how each method would characterize the response of gap junctions to serotonin. The traditional coupling coefficients showed severe deficits in assessing the symmetry and strength of electrical synapses. These were reduced when coupling conductances were determined and were absent in the direct method. Additionally, both coupling coefficient and coupling conductance caused large and systematic errors in assessing the size and time course of the serotonin-induced changes of gap junctional currents. Most importantly, both measurements can easily be misinterpreted as implying long-term gap junctional plasticity, although the direct measurements confirm its absence. We thus show directly that coupling coefficients and coupling conductances can severely confound plastic changes in membrane and junctional conductance. Wherever possible, voltage clamp measurements should be chosen to accurately characterize the timing and strength of plasticity of electrical synapses. However, we also demonstrate that coupling coefficients can still yield a qualitatively correct picture when amended by independent measurements of the course of membrane resistance during the experiments.