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Dev Genet. 1999;24(1-2):5-12.

Doubly mutant mice, deficient in connexin32 and -43, show normal prenatal development of organs where the two gap junction proteins are expressed in the same cells.

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1
Department of Physiology, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.

Abstract

The connexins are a family of proteins that form the intercellular membrane channels of gap junctions. Genes encoding 13 different rodent connexins have been cloned and characterized to date. Connexins vary both in their distribution among adult cell types and in the properties of the channels that they form. In order to explore the functional significance of connexin diversity, several mouse connexin-encoding genes have been disrupted by homologous recombination in embryonic stem cells. Although those experiments have illuminated specific physiological roles for individual connexins, the results have also raised the possibility that connexins may functionally compensate for one another in cells where they are coexpressed. In the present study, we have tested this hypothesis by interbreeding mice carrying null mutations in the genes (Gjb1 and Gja1) encoding connexin32 (beta 1 connexin) and connexin43 (alpha 1 connexin), respectively. We found that fetuses lacking both connexins survive to term but, as expected, the pups die soon thereafter from the cardiac abnormality caused by the absence of connexin43. A survey of the major organ systems of the doubly mutant fetuses, including the thyroid gland, developing teeth, and limbs where these two connexins are coexpressed, failed to reveal any morphological abnormalities not already seen in connexin43 deficient fetuses. Furthermore, the production of thyroxine by doubly mutant thyroids was confirmed by immunocytochemistry. We conclude that, at least as far as the prenatal period is concerned, the normal development of those three organs in fetuses lacking connexin43 cannot simply be explained by the additional presence of connexin32 and vice-versa. Either gap junctional coupling is dispensable in embryonic and fetal cells in which these two connexins are coexpressed, or coupling is provided by yet another connexin when both are absent.

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