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Mol Membr Biol. 2002 Apr-Jun;19(2):121-36.

Gap junctions: structure and function (Review).

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Department of Medical Biochemistry & Diagnostic Radiology, University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff, UK.


Gap junctions are plasma membrane spatial microdomains constructed of assemblies of channel proteins called connexins in vertebrates and innexins in invertebrates. The channels provide direct intercellular communication pathways allowing rapid exchange of ions and metabolites up to approximately 1 kD in size. Approximately 20 connexins are identified in the human or mouse genome, and orthologues are increasingly characterized in other vertebrates. Most cell types express multiple connexin isoforms, making likely the construction of a spectrum of heteromeric hemichannels and heterotypic gap junctions that could provide a structural basis for the charge and size selectivity of these intercellular channels. The precise nature of the potential signalling information traversing junctions in physiologically defined situations remains elusive, but extensive progress has been made in elucidating how connexins are assembled into gap junctions. Also, participation of gap junction hemichannels in the propagation of calcium waves via an extracellular purinergic pathway is emerging. Connexin mutations have been identified in a number of genetically inherited channel communication-opathies. These are detected in connexin 32 in Charcot Marie Tooth-X linked disease, in connexins 26 and 30 in deafness and skin diseases, and in connexins 46 and 50 in hereditary cataracts. Biochemical approaches indicate that many of the mutated connexins are mistargeted to gap junctions and/or fail to oligomerize correctly into hemichannels. Genetic ablation approaches are helping to map out a connexin code and point to specific connexins being required for cell growth and differentiation as well as underwriting basic intercellular communication.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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