Gap junctions between crayfish lateral axons were studied by combining anatomical and electrophysiological measurements to determine structural changes associated during uncoupling by axoplasmic acidification. In basal conditions, the junctional resistance, Rj, was approximately 60-80 k omega and the synapses appeared as two adhering membranes; 18-20-nm overall thickness, containing transverse densities (channels) spanning both membranes and the narrow extracellular gap (4-6 nm). In freeze-fracture replicas, the synapses contained greater than 3 X 10(3) gap junction plaques having a total of approximately 3.5 X 10(5) intramembrane particles. "Single" gap junction particles represented approximately 10% of the total number of gap junction particles present in the synapse. Therefore, in basal conditions, most of the gap junction particles were organized in plaques. Moreover, correlations of the total number of gap junction particles with Rj suggested that most of the junctional particles in plaques corresponded to conducting channels. Upon acidification of the axoplasm to pH 6.7-6.8, the junctional resistance increased to approximately 300 k omega and action potentials failed to propagate across the septum. Morphological measurements showed that the total number of gap junction particles in plaques decreased approximately 11-fold to 3.1 X 10(4) whereas the number of single particles dispersed in the axolemmae increased significantly. Thin sections of these synapses showed that the width of the extracellular gap increased from 4-6 nm in basal conditions to 10-20 nm under conditions where axoplasmic pH was 6.7-6.8. These observations suggest that single gap junction particles dispersed in the synapse most likely represent hemi-channels produced by the dissasembly of channels previously arranged in plaques.

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