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Differences between Electrical and Chemical Synapses

In this article, learn the differences between Electrical and Chemical Synapses. the synapse can be defined as a specialized intercellular functional approach between neurons, either between two association neurons, a neuron and a receptor cell, or between a neuron and an effector cell. In this approach, the transmission of the nervous impulse is carried out.

Thus, the synapse can be electrical or chemical depending on the secretion of neurotransmitters and the amount of nerve impulses involved in the process.

Electrical VS Chemical Synapse

That said, to clarify this terminology a little more, we are going to specify each of these synapse processes and then present the differences that exist between them.

What is Electrical Synapse?

The electrical synapse is a synapse in which the transmission between the first neuron and the second is not produced by the secretion of a neurotransmitter but by the passage of ions from one cell to another, through gap junctions (small channels formed by the coupling of protein complexes, based on connections, in tightly adhered cells).

In the electrical synapse, the space between the pre- and post-synaptic elements is much smaller. These unions are common in some invertebrates, such as sponges, mollusks, and annelids. In them, the information is transmitted through local currents that are symmetrical and bidirectional, therefore, there is no synaptic delay (the time it takes for the synaptic connection to occur).

What is Chemical Synapse?

Basically, the chemical synapse is produced by the release of neurotransmitters with the arrival of a nervous impulse and through a very rapid process of cellular secretion where in the pre-synaptic nerve terminal they remain anchored and prepared next to the synaptic membrane. 

At the chemical synapse, the nerve impulse passes from one neuron to another through chemical transmitters. Chemical synapsis occurs between cells that are separated from each other by a space of about 20-30 nm, the so-called synaptic cleft.

Thus, in chemical synapses, information is transmitted through neurotransmitters that are asymmetric and unidirectional (the postsynaptic neuron cannot transmit information to the presynaptic neuron), therefore, the synaptic delay is greater.

Differences between Electrical and Chemical Synapses

Key Differences between Electrical and Chemical Synapses:

  • In electrical synapses, information is transferred through local currents, while in chemical synapses it is transmitted through neurotransmitters.
  • In electrical synapses, there is practically no synaptic delay (the time it takes for a synaptic connection to occur) while in chemical synapses this delay is longer.
  • Electrical synapses are symmetrical while chemical synapses are asymmetrical.
  • Electrical synapses are bidirectional while chemical synapses are unidirectional (the postsynaptic neuron cannot transmit information to the presynaptic neuron).
  • Electrical synapses have low plasticity (information is always translated in the same way, that is, when an action potential is produced in one neuron it is produced in the other) while chemical synapses show high plasticity that allows adaptation to changes in the environment.
  • Chemical synapses are more evolved than electrical synapses.
  • Electrical synapses are more common in invertebrates while chemical synapses are more common in vertebrates.

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