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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2013 Jan;1828(1):109-17. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2012.03.005. Epub 2012 Mar 16.

Gap junction proteins: master regulators of the planarian stem cell response to tissue maintenance and injury.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Merced, CA 95343, USA.


Gap junction (GJ) proteins are crucial mediators of cell-cell communication during embryogenesis, tissue regeneration and disease. GJ proteins form plasma membrane channels that facilitate passage of small molecules across cells and modulate signaling pathways and cellular behavior in different tissues. These properties have been conserved throughout evolution, and in most invertebrates GJ proteins are known as innexins. Despite their critical relevance for physiology and disease, the mechanisms by which GJ proteins modulate cell behavior are poorly understood. This review summarizes findings from recent work that uses planarian flatworms as a paradigm to analyze GJ proteins in the complexity of the whole organism. The planarian model allows access to a large pool of adult somatic stem cells (known as neoblasts) that support physiological cell turnover and tissue regeneration. Innexin proteins are present in planarians and play a fundamental role in controlling neoblast behavior. We discuss the possibility that GJ proteins participate as cellular sensors that inform neoblasts about local and systemic physiological demands. We believe that functional analyses of GJ proteins will bring a complementary perspective to studies that focus on the temporal expression of genes. Finally, integrating functional studies along with molecular genetics and epigenetic approaches would expand our understanding of cellular regulation in vivo and greatly enhance the possibilities for rationally modulating stem cell behavior in their natural environment. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: The communicating junctions, roles and dysfunctions.

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