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Biol Reprod. 2012 Apr 19;86(4):115. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod.111.096925. Print 2012 Apr.

The molecular role of connexin 43 in human trophoblast cell fusion.

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Research Centre for Women's and Infants' Health, Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Connexin expression and gap junctional intercellular communication (GJIC) mediated by connexin 43 (Cx43)/gap junction A1 (GJA1) are required for cytotrophoblast fusion into the syncytium, the outer functional layer of the human placenta. Cx43 also impacts intracellular signaling through protein-protein interactions. The transcription factor GCM1 and its downstream target ERVW-1/SYNCYTIN-1 are key players in trophoblast fusion and exert their actions through the ERVW-1 receptor SLC1A5/ASCT-2/RDR/ATB(0). To investigate the molecular role of the Cx43 protein and its interaction with this fusogenic pathway, we utilized stable Cx43-transfected cell lines established from the choriocarcinoma cell line Jeg3: wild-type Jeg3, alphahCG/Cx43 (constitutive Cx43 expression), JpUHD/Cx43 (doxycyclin-inducible Cx43 expression), or JpUHD/trCx43 (doxycyclin-inducible Cx43 carboxyterminal deleted). We hypothesized that truncation of Cx43 at its C-terminus would inhibit trophoblast fusion and protein interaction with either ERVW-1 or SLC1A5. In the alphahCG/Cx43 and JpUHD/Cx43 lines, stimulation with cAMP caused 1) increase in GJA1 mRNA levels, 2) increase in percentage of fused cells, and 3) downregulation of SLC1A5 expression. Cell fusion was inhibited by GJIC blockade using carbenoxylone. Neither Jeg3, which express low levels of Cx43, nor the JpUHD/trCx43 cell line demonstrated cell fusion or downregulation of SLC1A5. However, GCM1 and ERVW-1 mRNAs were upregulated by cAMP treatment in both Jeg3 and all Cx43 cell lines. Silencing of GCM1 prevented the induction of GJA1 mRNA by forskolin in BeWo choriocarcinoma cells, demonstrating that GCM1 is upstream of Cx43. All cell lines and first-trimester villous explants also demonstrated coimmunoprecipitation of SLC1A5 and phosphorylated Cx43. Importantly, SLC1A5 and Cx43 gap junction plaques colocalized in situ to areas of fusing cytotrophoblast, as demonstrated by the loss of E-cadherin staining in the plasma membrane in first-trimester placenta. We conclude that Cx43-mediated GJIC and SLC1A5 interaction play important functional roles in trophoblast cell fusion.

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