Connexin 36 expression is required for electrical coupling between mouse rods and cones.
Rod-cone gap junctions mediate the so-called "secondary rod pathway", one of three routes that convey rod photoreceptor signals across the retina. Connexin 36 (Cx36) is expressed at these gap junctions, but an unidentified connexin protein also seems to be expressed. Cx36 knockout mice have been used extensively in the quest to dissect the roles in vision of all three pathways, with the assumption, never directly tested, that rod-cone electrical coupling is abolished by deletion of this connexin isoform. We previously showed that when wild type mouse cones couple to rods, their apparent dynamic range is extended toward lower light intensities, with the appearance of large responses to dim flashes (up to several mV) originating in rods. Here we recorded from the cones of Cx36del[LacZ]/del[LacZ] mice and found that dim flashes of the same intensity evoked at most small sub-millivolt responses. Moreover, these residual responses originated in the cones themselves, since: (i) their spectral preference matched that of the recorded cone and not of rods, (ii) their time-to-peak was shorter than in coupled wild type cones, (iii) a pharmacological block of gap junctions did not reduce their amplitude. Taken together, our data show that rod signals are indeed absent in the cones of Cx36 knockout mice. This study is the first direct demonstration that Cx36 is crucial for the assembly of functional rod-cone gap junctional channels, implying that its genetic deletion is a reliable experimental approach to eliminate rod-cone coupling.