Reviews in the Neurosciences

Could electrical coupling contribute to the formation of cell assemblies?

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Cell assemblies and central pattern generators (CPGs) are related types of neuronal networks: Both consist of interacting groups of neurons whose collective activities lead to defined functional outputs. In the case of a cell assembly, the functional output may be interpreted as a representation of something in the world, external or internal; for a CPG, the output 'drives' an observable (i.e. motor) behavior. Electrical coupling, via gap junctions, is critical for the development of CPGs, as well as for their actual operation in the adult animal. Electrical coupling is also known to be important in the development of hippocampal and neocortical principal cell networks. We here argue that electrical coupling-in addition to chemical synapses-may therefore contribute to the formation of at least some cell assemblies in adult animals.