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J Biol Chem. 2002 Mar 22;277(12):10482-8. Epub 2002 Jan 14.

Intercellular calcium signaling in astrocytes via ATP release through connexin hemichannels.

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  • 1Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda, California 92350, USA.


Astrocytes are capable of widespread intercellular communication via propagated increases in intracellular Ca(2+) concentration. We have used patch clamp, dye flux, ATP assay, and Ca(2+) imaging techniques to show that one mechanism for this intercellular Ca(2+) signaling in astrocytes is the release of ATP through connexin channels ("hemichannels") in individual cells. Astrocytes showed low Ca(2+)-activated whole-cell currents consistent with connexin hemichannel currents that were inhibited by the connexin channel inhibitor flufenamic acid (FFA). Astrocytes also showed molecular weight-specific influx and release of dyes, consistent with flux through connexin hemichannels. Transmembrane dye flux evoked by mechanical stimulation was potentiated by low Ca(2+) and was inhibited by FFA and Gd(3+). Mechanical stimulation also evoked release of ATP that was potentiated by low Ca(2+) and inhibited by FFA and Gd(3+). Similar whole-cell currents, transmembrane dye flux, and ATP release were observed in C6 glioma cells expressing connexin43 but were not observed in parent C6 cells. The connexin hemichannel activator quinine evoked ATP release and Ca(2+) signaling in astrocytes and in C6 cells expressing connexin43. The propagation of intercellular Ca(2+) waves in astrocytes was also potentiated by quinine and inhibited by FFA and Gd(3+). Release of ATP through connexin hemichannels represents a novel signaling pathway for intercellular communication in astrocytes and other non-excitable cells.

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