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Cell Physiol Biochem. 2011;28(1):103-14. doi: 10.1159/000331719. Epub 2011 Aug 16.

Ischemia induces closure of gap junctional channels and opening of hemichannels in heart-derived cells and tissue.

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Cardiovascular Research Group, Department of Medical Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway.



Gap junction intercellular communication (GJIC) and hemichannel permeability may have important roles during an ischemic insult. Our aim was to evaluate the effect of ischemia on gap junction channels and hemichannels.


We used neonatal rat heart myofibroblasts and simulated ischemia with a HEPES buffer with high potassium, low pH, absence of glucose, and oxygen tension was reduced by dithionite. Microinjection, western blot, immunofluorescence, cell viability and dye uptake were used to evaluate the effects induced by dithionite. Isolated perfused rat hearts were used to analyse infarct size.


Short period with simulated ischemia reduced the ability to transfer a dye between neighbouring cells, which indicated reduced GJIC. Prolonged exposure to simulated ischemia caused opening of hemichannels, and cell death was apparent while gap junction channels remained closed. Connexin 43 became partially dephosphorylated and the total amount decreased during simulated ischemia. We were not able to detect the alternative hemichannel-forming protein, Pannexin 1, in these cells. The potential importance of Connexin 43 or Pannexin 1 hemichannels in ischemia-induced infarct in the intact heart was studied by perfusion of the heart in the presence of peptides that block one or the other type of hemichannels. The connexin-derived peptide, Gap26, significantly reduced the infract/risk zone ratio (control 48.7±4.2% and Gap26 19.4±4.1%, p<0.001), while the pannexin-derived peptide, (10)Panx1, did not change infarct/risk ratio.


Connexin 43 is most likely responsible for both closure of gap junction channels and opening of hemichannels during simulated ischemia in neonatal rat heart myofibroblasts. Opening of connexin 43 hemichannels during ischemia-reperfusion seems to be an important mechanism for ischemia-reperfusion injury in the heart. By preventing the opening of these channels during early ischemia-reperfusion the infarct size becomes significantly reduced.

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