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J Cell Sci. 2009 Nov 1;122(Pt 21):3883-93. doi: 10.1242/jcs.053801. Epub 2009 Oct 6.

Ubiquitylation of the gap junction protein connexin-43 signals its trafficking from early endosomes to lysosomes in a process mediated by Hrs and Tsg101.

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Centre for Cancer Biomedicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo and Institute for Cancer Research, Norwegian Radium Hospital, Oslo University Hospital, Montebello, Oslo, Norway.


Gap junctions are dynamic plasma membrane domains, and their protein constituents, the connexins, have a high turnover rate in most tissue types. However, the molecular mechanisms involved in degradation of gap junctions have remained largely unknown. Here, we show that ubiquitin is strongly relocalized to connexin-43 (Cx43; also known as Gja1) gap junction plaques in response to activation of protein kinase C. Cx43 remained ubiquitylated during its transition to a Triton X-100-soluble state and along its trafficking to early endosomes. Following internalization, Cx43 partly colocalized with the ubiquitin-binding proteins Hrs (hepatocyte growth factor-regulated tyrosine kinase substrate; also known as Hgs) and Tsg101 (tumor susceptibility gene 101). Depletion of Hrs or Tsg101 by small interfering RNA abrogated trafficking of Cx43 from early endosomes to lysosomes. Under these conditions, Cx43 was able to undergo dephosphorylation and deubiquitylation, locate to the plasma membrane and form functional gap junctions. Simultaneous depletion of Hrs and Tsg101 caused accumulation of a phosphorylated and ubiquitylated subpopulation of Cx43 in early endosomes and in hybrid organelles between partly degraded annular gap junctions and endosomes. Collectively, these data reveal a central role of early endosomes in sorting of ubiquitylated Cx43, and identify Hrs and Tsg101 as crucial regulators of trafficking of Cx43 to lysosomes.

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