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Antioxid Redox Signal. 2009 Feb;11(2):251-66. doi: 10.1089/ars.2008.2117.

Gap junctions in the control of vascular function.

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  • 1Departamento de Ciencias Fisiológicas, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.


Direct intercellular communication via gap junctions is critical in the control and coordination of vascular function. In the cardiovascular system, gap junctions are made up of one or more of four connexin proteins: Cx37, Cx40, Cx43, and Cx45. The expression of more than one gap-junction protein in the vasculature is not redundant. Rather, vascular connexins work in concert, first during the development of the cardiovascular system, and then in integrating smooth muscle and endothelial cell function, and in coordinating cell function along the length of the vessel wall. In addition, connexin-based channels have emerged as an important signaling pathway in the astrocyte-mediated neurovascular coupling. Direct electrical communication between endothelial cells and vascular smooth muscle cells via gap junctions is thought to play a relevant role in the control of vasomotor tone, providing the signaling pathway known as endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor (EDHF). Consistent with the importance of gap junctions in the regulation of vasomotor tone and arterial blood pressure, the expression of connexins is altered in diseases associated with vascular complications. In this review, we discuss the participation of connexin-based channels in the control of vascular function in physiologic and pathologic conditions, with a special emphasis on hypertension and diabetes.

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