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Dev Genet. 1999;24(1-2):1-4.

Genes, gene knockouts, and mutations in the analysis of gap junctions.

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Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104-6017, USA.


Gop junctions are cell junctions found between most cells and tissues. They contain membrane channels that mediate the cell-to-cell diffusion of ions, metabolites, and small cell signaling molecules. Cell-cell communication mediated by gap junctions has been proposed to have a variety of functions, including roles in regulating events in development, cell differentiation, and cell growth and proliferation. The analysis of these possibilities has been confounded by the fact that there are over a dozen connexin genes encoding polypeptides that make up vertebrate gap junctions. This complexity, coupled with the fact that most cells express multiple connexin isotypes, likely explains why recent studies using reverse genetic and genetic approaches to disrupt connexin gene function have yielded only limited insights into the physiological roles of gap junctions. Nevertheless, studies in vivo and in vitro together have provided evidence for gap junctions being involved in the regulation of cell metabolism, growth, and differentiation in restricted cell and tissue types. Surprisingly, studies in invertebrates suggest that their gap junctions are encoded not by connexins, but by a family of proteins referred to as innexins. Analysis of various Drosophila and C. elegans mutants suggest that innexins may be functional homologs to the connexins. However, whether innexins are the elusive invertebrate gap junction proteins or, rather, accessory proteins that facilitate gap junction formation remains an open question. Given the rapid progress being made in the cloning and functional analysis of gap junctions in many diverse species, confusion and difficulties with nomenclature are coming to a head in this rapidly expanding field. It may be timely to form a Nomenclature Committee to establish a uniform classification scheme for naming gap junction proteins.

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