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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2005 Dec 20;1719(1-2):125-45. Epub 2005 Nov 21.

Defective gap junctional intercellular communication in the carcinogenic process.

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Equipe Interactions et Communications Cellulaires, Institut de Physiologie et Biologie Cellulaires, CNRS-UMR 6187, Université de Poitiers, 40 avenue du Recteur Pineau, 86022 Poitiers cedex, France.


Gap junctions are membrane structures made of intercellular channels which permit the diffusion from cytoplasm to cytoplasm of small hydrophilic molecules. Nearly 40 years ago, the loss of functional gap junctions has been described in cancer cells and led to the hypothesis that such type of intercellular communication is involved in the carcinogenesis process. From this time, a lot of data has been accumulated confirming that gap junctions are frequently decreased or absent in cancer cells whatever their tissue and species origins. Here, we review such data by insisting on the possible links existing between altered gap-junctional intercellular communication capacity (or the altered expression of their constitutive proteins, the connexins) and the stages of cancer progression in various cancer models. Then, we analyse particular aspects of the disturbance of connexin-mediated communication in cancer such as the cytoplasmic localization of connexins, the lack of heterologous communication between cancer cells and normal cells, the role of connexin gene mutations in cancer. In a separate part of the review, we also analyse the disturbance of gap-junctional intercellular communication during the late stages of cancer (invasion and metastasis processes).

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