Electrical synaptic transmission is widespread in the vertebrate CNS and its modulation plays a critical role in altering the properties of coupled neural networks. In order to define further the mechanisms of electrical synaptic plasticity in the vertebrate retina, the electrophysiological characteristics of solitary horizontal cells and horizontal cell pairs from the zebrafish (Brachydanio rerio) were examined by whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from cells in primary cell culture. In solitary cells, the current-voltage relation exhibited inward current at potentials negative to -60 mV, a linear region of high resistance from -50 mV to 0 mV, and outward current positive to +20 mV. The inward current at negative potentials was blocked by substituting Cs+ for K+ in the extracellular medium, while the outward current at positive potentials was blocked by substitution of Cs+ for K+ in the pipette solution. Measurements of gap junctional conductance from electrically coupled cell pairs revealed that zebrafish horizontal cells expressed a mean junctional conductance of considerably smaller magnitude than other teleost retinal horizontal cells. Junctional conductance was found to be voltage dependent, exhibiting time- dependent closure with increasing transjunctional voltage. Voltage sensitivity was symmetrical about 0 mV junctional potential. At +/- 90 mV the ratio of steady state to peak current was approximately 0.5 and the time constant for inactivation of the junctional current was approximately 120 msec. Junctional conductance was also modulated by dopamine and cAMP. Pairs of horizontal cells responded to puff application of dopamine with a two- to threefold reduction in junctional conductance, but there was no discernible effect on extrajunctional conductances. The action of dopamine on coupling was mimicked by application of the dopamine agonist (+/-)-6,7-dihydroxy-2- amino-tetralin (ADTN) and the membrane permeable cAMP analog 8-bromo- cAMP. The selective D1 dopamine receptor antagonist SCH23390 blocked uncoupling by dopamine. These data provide a primary description of the electrophysiological characteristics of solitary horizontal cells and the electrical coupling between pairs of horizontal cells dissociated from the zebrafish retina. They indicate that zebrafish horizontal cells are distinct from the horizontal cells of other teleosts in their coupling characteristics. The results suggest that zebrafish horizontal cells exhibit differences in the regulation of synaptic assembly and maintenance that have important implications for the function of the zebrafish horizontal cell network in vivo.