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Eur J Biochem. 2001 Aug;268(16):4544-52.

Assembly of gap junction channels: mechanism, effects of calmodulin antagonists and identification of connexin oligomerization determinants.

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Department of Medical Biochemistry, University of Wales College of Medicine, Heath Park, Cardiff, Wales, UK.


The assembly of connexins (Cxs) into gap junction intercellular communication channels was studied. An in vitro cell-free synthesis system showed that formation of the hexameric connexon hemichannels involved dimeric and tetrameric connexin intermediates. Cx32 contains two putative cytoplasmic calmodulin-binding sites, and their role in gap junction channel assembly was investigated. The oligomerization of Cx32 into connexons was reversibly inhibited by a calmodulin-binding synthetic peptide, and by W7, a naphthalene sulfonamide calmodulin antagonist. Removing the calmodulin-binding site located at the carboxyl tail of Cx32 limited connexon formation and resulted in an accumulation of intermediate connexin oligomers. This truncation mutant, Cx32Delta215, when transiently expressed in COS-7 cells, accumulated intracellularly and had failed to target to gap junctions. Immunoprecipitation studies suggested that a C-terminal sequence of Cx32 incorporating the calmodulin-binding site was required for the formation of hetero-oligomers of Cx26 and Cx32 but not for Cx32 homomeric association. A chimera, Cx32TM3CFTR, in which the third transmembrane and proposed channel lining sequence of Cx32 was substituted by a transmembrane sequence of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator, did not oligomerize in vitro and it accumulated intracellularly when expressed in COS-7 cells. The results indicate that amino-acid sequences in the third transmembrane domain and a calmodulin-binding domain in the cytoplasmic tail of Cx32 are likely candidates for regulating connexin oligomerization.

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