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J Biol Chem. 2004 Jun 25;279(26):27219-24. Epub 2004 Apr 26.

High glucose down-regulates intercellular communication in retinal endothelial cells by enhancing degradation of connexin 43 by a proteasome-dependent mechanism.

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Centre of Ophthalmology, Biomedical Institute for Research in Light and Image, Faculty of Medicine, University of Coimbra, 3000-354 Coimbra, Portugal.


Intercellular communication through gap junctions (GJIC) is most likely relevant to maintaining the integrity of the blood-retinal barrier. In this study, we investigated the mechanism whereby high glucose enhances degradation of connexin 43 (Cx43), thus contributing to a decrease in GJIC. The levels of Cx43 in bovine retinal endothelial cells exposed to high glucose (25 mm) decreased about 50% as compared with controls (5.5 mm glucose). Consistently, the half-life of the protein decreased from 2.3 to 1.9 h. The proteasome inhibitors MG132 and lactacystin prevented the loss of Cx43 induced by high glucose and extended Cx43 half-life. The amount of phosphorylated Cx43 increased in high glucose and after proteasome inhibition. Scrape-loading dye transfer experiments show that high glucose is associated to a decrease of 40% in GJIC. Significantly, this reduction can be reversed by proteasome inhibitors. The decrease in GJIC in cells exposed to high glucose is associated with a loss of Cx43 from the plasma membrane, as demonstrated by immunofluorescence and biotinylation of cell-surface proteins. Results indicate that increased phosphorylation of Cx43 under high glucose is the mechanism targeting Cx43 for degradation by a proteasome-dependent mechanism. Increased degradation of Cx43 and reduction of GJIC in high glucose may be of physiological importance by contributing to endothelial cell dysfunction associated with the breakdown of the blood-retinal barrier in diabetic retinopathy.

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