Regulation of electrical transmission by protein kinase C in Aplysia bag cell neurons
Electrical synapses are composed of gap junctions, made from paired hemi-channels that allow for the transfer of current from one neuron to another. Gap junctions mediate electrical transmission in neurons, where they synchronize spiking and promote rapid transmission, thereby influencing the coordination, pattern, and frequency of firing. In the marine snail, Aplysia calfornica, two clusters of neuroendocrine bag cell neurons use electrical synapses to synchronize a 30-min burst of action potentials, known as the afterdischarge, which releases egg-laying hormone and induces reproduction. In culture, paired bag cell neurons present a junctional conductance that is non-rectifying and largely voltage-independent. During the afterdischarge, PKC is activated, which is known to increase voltage-gated Ca2+ current; yet, little is understood as to how this pathway impacts electrical transmission. The transfer of presynaptic spike-like waveforms (generated in voltage-clamp) to the postsynaptic cell (measured in current-clamp) was monitored with or without PKC activation. It was found that pretreatment with the PKC activator, phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate (PMA), enhanced junctional conductance between bag cell neurons. Furthermore, in control, presynaptic action potential waveforms mainly evoked postsynaptic electrotonic potentials at both -60 and -40 mV. However, with PKC activation the presynaptic stimulus consistently elicited postsynaptic action potentials from resting potentials of -40 mV, and would occasionally result in firing from repetitive input at -60 mV. Moreover, to assess whether this enhanced electrical transmission genuinely reflects a greater junctional conductance or a change in postsynaptic responsiveness, a fast-phase junctional-like current was applied to single bag cell neurons. Neurons in PMA always fired action potentials in response to current injection as opposed to control, which were less likely to spike. This outcome did not change when the junctional-like current was artificially enhanced in control conditions. Also, in response to fast- and slow-phase electrotonic potential (ETP) waveforms, Ca2+ current was markedly larger in single PMA-treated neurons. These findings suggest that PKC activation may contribute to afterdischarge fidelity by recruiting postsynaptic Ca2+ current to promote synchronous network firing. Finally, Aplysia gap junction genes (innexins) were transfected into mouse N2A cells and characterized. This revealed a biophysical and pharmacological profile similar to native gap junctions.