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Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2007 May-Jun;94(1-2):66-106. Epub 2007 Mar 19.

Molecular basis of voltage dependence of connexin channels: an integrative appraisal.

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Research Department, Unit of Experimental Neurology, Ramón y Cajal Hospital, Carretera de Colmenar Viejo km 9, Madrid, Spain.


The importance of electrical and molecular signaling through connexin (Cx) channels is now widely recognized. The transfer of ions and other small molecules between adjacent cells is regulated by multiple stimuli, including voltage. Indeed, Cx channels typically exhibit complex voltage sensitivity. Most channels are sensitive to the voltage difference between the cell interiors (or transjunctional voltage, V(j)), while other channels are also sensitive to absolute inside-outside voltage (i.e., the membrane potential, V(m)). The first part of this review is focused on the description of the distinct forms of voltage sensitivity and the gating mechanisms that regulate hemichannel activity, both individually and as components of homotypic and heterotypic gap junctions. We then provide an up to date and precise picture of the molecular and structural aspects of how V(j) and V(m) are sensed, and how they, therefore, control channel opening and closing. Mutagenic strategies coupled with structural, biochemical and electrophysical studies are providing significant insights into how distinct forms of voltage dependence are brought about. The emerging picture indicates that Cx channels can undergo transitions between multiple conductance states driven by distinct voltage-gating mechanisms. Each hemichannel may contain a set of two V(j) gates, one fast and one slow, which mediate the transitions between the main open state to the residual state and to the fully closed state, respectively. Eventually, a V(m) gate regulates channel transitions between the open and closed states. Clusters of charged residues within separate domains of the Cx molecule have been identified as integral parts of the V(j) and V(m) sensors. The charges at the first positions of the amino terminal cytoplasmic domain determine the magnitude and polarity of the sensitivity to fast V(j)-gating, as well as contributing to the V(j)-rectifying properties of ion permeation. Additionally, important advances have been made in identifying the conformational rearrangements responsible for fast V(j)-gating transitions to the residual state in the Cx43 channel. These changes involve an intramolecular particle-receptor interaction between the carboxy terminal domain and the cytoplasmic loop.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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