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Special Issue "Gap Junction Channels and Hemichannels in Health and Disease"

A special issue of International Journal of Molecular Sciences (ISSN 1422-0067). This special issue belongs to the section "Biochemistry".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 June 2023) | Viewed by 7021

Special Issue Editors

1. Department of Physics and Astronomy "G. Galilei", University of Padua, 35131 Padova, Italy
2. Veneto Institute of Molecular Medicine (VIMM), 35129 Padova, Italy
Interests: biophysics; neuropathies; Charcot-Marie-Tooth; connexin 32; brain organoids; electrophysiology; live imaging; systems biology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Neighboring cells directly exchange small cytosolic molecules via cell–cell channels clustered at gap junctions. Gap junction-mediated cell communication is a very important mechanism that allows cells to coordinate numerous functions. Conversely, impaired cell–cell communication is known to cause many diseases.

Each gap junction channel is formed by the interaction of two hemichannels that create a hydrophilic pathway spanning the two plasma membranes and a narrow extracellular space (gap). In turn, each hemichannel is an oligomer of six proteins (connexins/innexins). Gap junction channels are regulated by a gating mechanism sensitive to changes in cytosolic calcium (Ca2+i) and pHi.

In the mid-1980s, the cloning of connexin/innexin cDNAs opened the way to the field of gap junction channelopathies. Thus far, at least thirty-five genetic diseases caused by mutations of eleven different connexins genes are known to cause numerous structural and functional defects in the central and peripheral nervous system as well as in the heart, skin, eyes, teeth, ears, bone, hair, nails, and lymphatic system.

While all of these diseases are due to connexin mutations, minimal attention has thus far been addressed to potential diseases caused by mutations of connexin-associated molecules. An important accessory of gap junctions is the protein calmodulin (CaM), which plays a role in channel gating and is relevant to gap junction formation as well. Recently, diseases caused by CaM mutations (calmodulinopathies) have been identified, but thus far, calmodulinopathy studies have not considered the potential effect of CaM mutations on gap junction function. Therefore, it is important to also raise awareness on the likely role of CaM mutations in defects of gap-junction-mediated cell communication.

Prof. Dr. Camillo Peracchia
Dr. Mario Bortolozzi
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • gap junction channel
  • hemichannel
  • CaM
  • calmodulin

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

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Article
Endocytosis and Endocytic Motifs across the Connexin Gene Family
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2023, 24(16), 12851; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms241612851 - 16 Aug 2023
Viewed by 363
Abstract
Proteins fated to be internalized by clathrin-mediated endocytosis require an endocytic motif, where AP-2 or another adaptor protein can bind and recruit clathrin. Tyrosine and di-leucine-based sorting signals are such canonical motifs. Connexin 43 (Cx43) has three canonical tyrosine-based endocytic motifs, two of [...] Read more.
Proteins fated to be internalized by clathrin-mediated endocytosis require an endocytic motif, where AP-2 or another adaptor protein can bind and recruit clathrin. Tyrosine and di-leucine-based sorting signals are such canonical motifs. Connexin 43 (Cx43) has three canonical tyrosine-based endocytic motifs, two of which have been previously shown to recruit clathrin and mediate its endocytosis. In addition, di-leucine-based motifs have been characterized in the Cx32 C-terminal domain and shown to mediate its endocytosis. Here, we examined the amino acid sequences of all 21 human connexins to identify endocytic motifs across the connexin gene family. We find that although there is limited conservation of endocytic motifs between connexins, 14 of the 21 human connexins contain one or more canonical tyrosine or di-leucine-based endocytic motif in their C-terminal or intracellular loop domain. Three connexins contain non-canonical (modified) di-leucine motifs. However, four connexins (Cx25, Cx26, Cx31, and Cx40.1) do not harbor any recognizable endocytic motif. Interestingly, live cell time-lapse imaging of different GFP-tagged connexins that either contain or do not contain recognizable endocytic motifs readily undergo endocytosis, forming clearly identifiable annular gap junctions when expressed in HeLa cells. How connexins without defined endocytic motifs are endocytosed is currently not known. Our results demonstrate that an array of endocytic motifs exists in the connexin gene family. Further analysis will establish whether the sites we identified in this in silico analysis are legitimate endocytic motifs. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gap Junction Channels and Hemichannels in Health and Disease)
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Article
Role of Cx43 in iPSC-CM Damage Induced by Microwave Radiation
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2023, 24(16), 12533; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms241612533 - 08 Aug 2023
Viewed by 375
Abstract
The heart is one of the major organs affected by microwave radiation, and these effects have been extensively studied. Previous studies have shown that microwave-radiation-induced heart injury might be related to the abnormal expression and distribution of Cx43. In order to make the [...] Read more.
The heart is one of the major organs affected by microwave radiation, and these effects have been extensively studied. Previous studies have shown that microwave-radiation-induced heart injury might be related to the abnormal expression and distribution of Cx43. In order to make the research model closer to humans, we used iPSC-CMs as the cell injury model to investigate the biological effect and mechanism of iPSC-CM injury after microwave radiation. To model the damage, iPSC-CMs were separated into four groups and exposed to single or composite S-band (2.856 GHz) and X-band (9.375 GHz) microwave radiation sources with an average power density of 30 mW/cm2. After that, FCM was used to detect cell activity, and ELISA was used to detect the contents of myocardial enzymes and injury markers in the culture medium, and it was discovered that cell activity decreased and the contents increased after radiation. TEM and SEM showed that the ultrastructure of the cell membrane, mitochondria, and ID was damaged. Mitochondrial function was aberrant, and glycolytic capacity decreased after exposure. The electrical conduction function of iPSC-CM was abnormal; the conduction velocity was decreased, and the pulsation amplitude was reduced. Wb, qRT-PCR, and IF detections showed that the expression of Cx43 was decreased and the distribution of Cx43 at the gap junction was disordered. Single or composite exposure to S- and X-band microwave radiation caused damage to the structure and function of iPSC-CMs, primarily affecting the cell membrane, mitochondria, and ID. The composite exposure group was more severely harmed than the single exposure group. These abnormalities in structure and function were related to the decreased expression and disordered distribution of Cx43. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gap Junction Channels and Hemichannels in Health and Disease)
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Article
Cx43 Hemichannel and Panx1 Channel Modulation by Gap19 and 10Panx1 Peptides
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2023, 24(14), 11612; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms241411612 - 18 Jul 2023
Viewed by 468
Abstract
Cx43 hemichannels (HCs) and Panx1 channels are two genetically distant protein families. Despite the lack of sequence homology, Cx43 and Panx1 channels have been the subject of debate due to their overlapping expression and the fact that both channels present similarities in terms [...] Read more.
Cx43 hemichannels (HCs) and Panx1 channels are two genetically distant protein families. Despite the lack of sequence homology, Cx43 and Panx1 channels have been the subject of debate due to their overlapping expression and the fact that both channels present similarities in terms of their membrane topology and electrical properties. Using the mimetic peptides Gap19 and 10Panx1, this study aimed to investigate the cross-effects of these peptides on Cx43 HCs and Panx1 channels. The single-channel current activity from stably expressing HeLa-Cx43 and C6-Panx1 cells was recorded using patch-clamp experiments in whole-cell voltage-clamp mode, demonstrating 214 pS and 68 pS average unitary conductances for the respective channels. Gap19 was applied intracellularly while 10Panx1 was applied extracellularly at different concentrations (100, 200 and 500 μM) and the average nominal open probability (NPo) was determined for each testing condition. A concentration of 100 µM Gap19 more than halved the NPo of Cx43 HCs, while 200 µM 10Panx1 was necessary to obtain a half-maximal NPo reduction in the Panx1 channels. Gap19 started to significantly inhibit the Panx1 channels at 500 µM, reducing the NPo by 26% while reducing the NPo of the Cx43 HCs by 84%. In contrast 10Panx1 significantly reduced the NPo of the Cx43 HCs by 37% at 100 µM and by 83% at 200 µM, a concentration that caused the half-maximal inhibition of the Panx1 channels. These results demonstrate that 10Panx1 inhibits Cx43 HCs over the 100–500 µM concentration range while 500 µM intracellular Gap19 is necessary to observe some inhibition of Panx1 channels. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gap Junction Channels and Hemichannels in Health and Disease)
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Article
Ca2+-Dependent and -Independent Calmodulin Binding to the Cytoplasmic Loop of Gap Junction Connexins
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2023, 24(4), 4153; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms24044153 - 19 Feb 2023
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Abstract
Ca2+/calmodulin (Ca2+/CaM) interaction with connexins (Cx) is well-established; however, the mechanistic basis of regulation of gap junction function by Ca2+/CaM is not fully understood. Ca2+/CaM is predicted to bind to a domain in the C-terminal [...] Read more.
Ca2+/calmodulin (Ca2+/CaM) interaction with connexins (Cx) is well-established; however, the mechanistic basis of regulation of gap junction function by Ca2+/CaM is not fully understood. Ca2+/CaM is predicted to bind to a domain in the C-terminal portion of the intracellular loop (CL2) in the vast majority of Cx isoforms and for a number of Cx-s this prediction has proved correct. In this study, we investigate and characterise both Ca2+/CaM and apo-CaM binding to selected representatives of each of the α, β and γ connexin family to develop a better mechanistic understanding of CaM effects on gap junction function. The affinity and kinetics Ca2+/CaM and apo-CaM interactions of CL2 peptides of β-Cx32, γ-Cx35, α-Cx43, α-Cx45 and α-Cx57 were investigated. All five Cx CL2 peptides were found to have high affinity for Ca2+/CaM with dissociation constants (Kd(+Ca)) from 20 to 150 nM. The limiting rate of binding and the rates of dissociation covered a broad range. In addition, we obtained evidence for high affinity Ca2+-independent interaction of all five peptides with CaM, consistent with CaM remaining anchored to gap junctions in resting cells. However, for the α-Cx45 and α-Cx57 CL2 peptides, Ca2+-dependent association at resting [Ca2+] of 50–100 nM is indicated in these complexes as one of the CaM Ca2+ binding sites displays high affinity with Kd of 70 and 30 nM for Ca2+, respectively. Furthermore, complex conformational changes were observed in peptide-apo-CaM complexes with the structure of CaM compacted or stretched by the peptide in a concentration dependent manner suggesting that the CL2 domain may undergo helix-to-coil transition and/or forms bundles, which may be relevant in the hexameric gap junction. We demonstrate inhibition of gap junction permeability by Ca2+/CaM in a dose dependent manner, further cementing Ca2+/CaM as a regulator of gap junction function. The motion of a stretched CaM–CL2 complex compacting upon Ca2+ binding may bring about the Ca2+/CaM block of the gap junction pore by a push and pull action on the CL2 C-terminal hydrophobic residues of transmembrane domain 3 (TM3) in and out of the membrane. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gap Junction Channels and Hemichannels in Health and Disease)
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Article
Glial Gap Junction Pathology in the Spinal Cord of the 5xFAD Mouse Model of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2022, 23(24), 15597; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms232415597 - 09 Dec 2022
Viewed by 1289
Abstract
Gap junctions (GJs) are specialized transmembrane channels assembled by two hemi-channels of six connexin (Cx) proteins that facilitate neuroglial crosstalk in the central nervous system (CNS). Previous studies confirmed the crucial role of glial GJs in neurodegenerative disorders with dementia or motor dysfunction [...] Read more.
Gap junctions (GJs) are specialized transmembrane channels assembled by two hemi-channels of six connexin (Cx) proteins that facilitate neuroglial crosstalk in the central nervous system (CNS). Previous studies confirmed the crucial role of glial GJs in neurodegenerative disorders with dementia or motor dysfunction including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The aim of this study was to examine the alterations in astrocyte and related oligodendrocyte GJs in association with Aβ plaques in the spinal cord of the 5xFAD mouse model of AD. Our analysis revealed abundant Aβ plaque deposition, activated microglia, and astrogliosis in 12-month-old (12M) 5xFAD mice, with significant impairment of motor performance starting from 3-months (3M) of age. Additionally, 12M 5xFAD mice displayed increased immunoreactivity of astroglial Cx43 and Cx30 surrounding Aβ plaques and higher protein levels, indicating upregulated astrocyte-to-astrocyte GJ connectivity. In addition, they demonstrated increased numbers of mature CC1-positive and precursor oligodendrocytes (OPCs) with higher immunoreactivity of Cx47-positive GJs in individual cells. Moreover, total Cx47 protein levels were significantly elevated in 12M 5xFAD, reflecting increased oligodendrocyte-to-oligodendrocyte Cx47–Cx47 GJ connectivity. In contrast, we observed a marked reduction in Cx32 protein levels in 12M 5xFAD spinal cords compared with controls, while qRT-PCR analysis revealed a significant upregulation in Cx32 mRNA levels. Finally, myelin deficits were found focally in the areas occupied by Aβ plaques, whereas axons themselves remained preserved. Overall, our data provide novel insights into the altered glial GJ expression in the spinal cord of the 5xFAD model of AD and the implicated role of GJ pathology in neurodegeneration. Further investigation to understand the functional consequences of these extensive alterations in oligodendrocyte–astrocyte (O/A) GJ connectivity is warranted. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gap Junction Channels and Hemichannels in Health and Disease)
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Article
Connexin 43 Channels in Osteocytes Are Necessary for Bone Mass and Skeletal Muscle Function in Aged Male Mice
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2022, 23(21), 13506; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms232113506 - 04 Nov 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1474
Abstract
Osteoporosis and sarcopenia (termed “Osteosarcopenia”), the twin-aging diseases, are major contributors to reduced bone mass and muscle weakness in the elderly population. Connexin 43 (Cx43) in osteocytes has been previously reported to play vital roles in bone homeostasis and muscle function in mature [...] Read more.
Osteoporosis and sarcopenia (termed “Osteosarcopenia”), the twin-aging diseases, are major contributors to reduced bone mass and muscle weakness in the elderly population. Connexin 43 (Cx43) in osteocytes has been previously reported to play vital roles in bone homeostasis and muscle function in mature mice. The Cx43-formed gap junctions (GJs) and hemichannels (HCs) in osteocytes are important portals for the exchange of small molecules in cell-to-cell and cell-to-extracellular matrix, respectively. However, the roles of Cx43-based GJs and HCs in both bone and muscle aging are still unclear. Here, we used two transgenic mouse models with overexpression of the dominant negative Cx43 mutants primarily in osteocytes driven by the 10-kb Dmp1 promoter, R76W mice (inhibited gap junctions but enhanced hemichannels) and Δ130–136 mice (both gap junction and hemichannels are inhibited), to determine the actions of Cx43-based hemichannels (HCs) and gap junctions (GJs) in the regulation of bone and skeletal muscle from aged mice (18 months) as compared with those from adult mice (10 months). We demonstrated that enhancement of Cx43 HCs reduces bone mass due to increased osteoclast surfaces while the impairment of Cx43 HCs increases osteocyte apoptosis in aged mice caused by reduced PGE2 levels. Furthermore, altered mitochondrial homeostasis with reduced expression of Sirt-1, OPA-1, and Drp-1 resulted in excessive ROS level in muscle soleus (SL) of aged transgenic mice. In vitro, the impairment of Cx43 HCs in osteocytes from aged mice also promoted muscle collagen synthesis through activation of TGFβ/smad2/3 signaling because of reduced PGE2 levels in the PO CM. These findings indicate that the enhancement of Cx43 HCs while GJs are inhibited reduces bone mass, and the impairment of Cx43 HCs inhibits PGE2 level in osteocytes and this reduction promotes muscle collagen synthesis in skeletal muscle through activation of TGFβ/smad2/3 signaling, which together with increased ROS level contributes to reduced muscle force in aged mice. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gap Junction Channels and Hemichannels in Health and Disease)
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Review

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Review
Anesthetics and Cell–Cell Communication: Potential Ca2+-Calmodulin Role in Gap Junction Channel Gating by Heptanol, Halothane and Isoflurane
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2022, 23(16), 9017; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms23169017 - 12 Aug 2022
Viewed by 1066
Abstract
Cell–cell communication via gap junction channels is known to be inhibited by the anesthetics heptanol, halothane and isoflurane; however, despite numerous studies, the mechanism of gap junction channel gating by anesthetics is still poorly understood. In the early nineties, we reported that gating [...] Read more.
Cell–cell communication via gap junction channels is known to be inhibited by the anesthetics heptanol, halothane and isoflurane; however, despite numerous studies, the mechanism of gap junction channel gating by anesthetics is still poorly understood. In the early nineties, we reported that gating by anesthetics is strongly potentiated by caffeine and theophylline and inhibited by 4-Aminopyridine. Neither Ca2+ channel blockers nor 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine (IBMX), forskolin, CPT-cAMP, 8Br-cGMP, adenosine, phorbol ester or H7 had significant effects on gating by anesthetics. In our publication, we concluded that neither cytosolic Ca2+i nor pHi were involved, and suggested a direct effect of anesthetics on gap junction channel proteins. However, while a direct effect cannot be excluded, based on the potentiating effect of caffeine and theophylline added to anesthetics and data published over the past three decades, we are now reconsidering our earlier interpretation and propose an alternative hypothesis that uncoupling by heptanol, halothane and isoflurane may actually result from a rise in cytosolic Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i) and consequential activation of calmodulin linked to gap junction proteins. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Gap Junction Channels and Hemichannels in Health and Disease)
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