Fast and slow skeletal muscle types are readily distinguished in larval zebrafish on the basis of differences in location and orientation. Additionally, both muscle types are compact, rendering them amenable to in vivo patch clamp study of synaptic function. Slow muscle mediates rhythmic swimming, but it does so purely through synaptic drive, as these cells are unable to generate action potentials. Our patch clamp recordings from muscle pairs of zebrafish reveal a network of electrical coupling in slow muscle that allows sharing of synaptic current within and between segmental boundaries of the tail. The synaptic current exhibits slow kinetics (τdecay ∼4 ms), which further facilitates passage through the low pass filter, a consequence of the electrically coupled network. In contrast to slow muscle, fast skeletal muscle generates action potentials to mediate the initial rapid component of the escape response. The combination of very weak electrical coupling and synaptic kinetics (τdecay <1 ms) too fast for the network low pass filter minimizes intercellular sharing of synaptic current in fast muscle. These differences between muscle types provide insights into the physiological role(s) of electrical coupling in skeletal muscle. First, intrasegmental coupling among slow muscle cells allows effective transfer of synaptic currents within tail segments, thereby minimizing differences in synaptic depolarization. Second, a fixed intersegmental delay in synaptic current transit, resulting from the low pass filter properties of the slow muscle network, helps coordinate the rostral-caudal wave of contraction.
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