Gap junctions allow the direct and bidirectional transfer of small molecules between cells. Polyamine sensitivity, which has been observed for a certain gap junction in vitro, confers rectification property to gap junction. Here we report that the polyamine sensitivity of gap junctions in vivo is crucial for skin pattern formation in zebrafish. Transgenic experiments have revealed that several connexin genes were able to rescue the spot phenotype of mutant zebrafish. Mutational analyses of the N-terminal region of connexins revealed that the ExxxE motif, a hypothetical polyamine-binding site, was important for connexin’s role in pattern formation. Ectopic expression of spermidine/spermine N(1)-acetyltransferase (SSAT), a polyamine metabolic enzyme, also caused stripe pattern changes, which further indicates that the polyamine sensitivity of gap junctions is crucial. This is the first report to show that polyamine sensitivity has a physiologically relevant function and is related to skin pattern formation in animals.
Gap junctions facilitate exchange of small molecules between adjacent cells, serving a crucial function for the maintenance of cellular homeostasis. Mutations in connexins, the basic unit of gap junctions, are associated with several human hereditary disorders. For example, mutations in connexin26 (Cx26) cause both non-syndromic deafness and syndromic deafness associated with skin abnormalities such as keratitis-ichthyosis-deafness (KID) syndrome. These mutations can alter the formation and function of gap junction channels through different mechanisms, and in turn interfere with various cellular processes leading to distinct disorders. The KID associated Cx26 mutations were mostly shown to result in elevated hemichannel activities. However, the effects of these aberrant hemichannels on cellular processes are recently being deciphered. Here, we assessed the effect of two Cx26 mutations associated with KID syndrome, Cx26I30N and D50Y, on protein biosynthesis and channel function in N2A and HeLa cells.
Organ-specific functions of tissue-resident macrophages in the steady-state heart are unknown. Here, we show that cardiac macrophages facilitate electrical conduction through the distal atrioventricular node, where conducting cells densely intersperse with elongated macrophages expressing connexin 43. When coupled to spontaneously beating cardiomyocytes via connexin-43-containing gap junctions, cardiac macrophages have a negative resting membrane potential and depolarize in synchrony with cardiomyocytes. Conversely, macrophages render the resting membrane potential of cardiomyocytes more positive and, according to computational modeling, accelerate their repolarization. Photostimulation of channelrhodopsin-2-expressing macrophages improves atrioventricular conduction, whereas conditional deletion of connexin 43 in macrophages and congenital lack of macrophages delay atrioventricular conduction. In the Cd11b(DTR) mouse, macrophage ablation induces progressive atrioventricular block. These observations implicate macrophages in normal and aberrant cardiac conduction.
Previously, Panax notoginseng saponin (PNS)‑induced enhancement of gap junction (GJ) formation or function was observed to be responsible for the increased cytotoxic action of cisplatin. PNS has three constituents, ginsenoside Rg1 and Rb1, and notoginsenoside R1. The active compounds in PNS responsible for enhancing the cytotoxicity of cisplatin remain unknown. Thus, the effects of the main components of PNS on the cytotoxicity of cisplatin were investigated, as well as the correlation with the modulation of GJ function in transfected HeLa cells. The cytotoxicity of cisplatin (0.25‑1 µg/ml) was increased in the presence of GJs. By contrast, the cytotoxicity of cisplatin was decreased when GJs were inhibited by a GJ blocker or by the inhibition of connexin expression. Ginsenoside Rg1 (100 µM) and notoginsenoside R1 (100 µM) were observed to significantly enhance cisplatin cytotoxicity in cells with functional GJs. Ginsenoside Rb1 had no effect on the cytotoxicity of cisplatin in the presence or absence of functional GJs. Cell exposure to ginsenoside Rg1 and notoginsenoside R1 for 4 h led to significant enhancement of a dye‑coupled GJ in a dose‑dependent manner; however, no effect was observed in cells exposed to ginsenoside Rb1. The present results indicate that ginsenoside Rg1 and notoginsenoside R1 are the active compounds responsible for enhancing the cytotoxic action of cisplatin induced by PNS in the presence of functional GJs.
Tumors adapt their phenotypes during growth and in response to therapies through dynamic changes in cellular processes. Connexin proteins enable such dynamic changes during development, and their dysregulation leads to disease states. The gap junction communication channels formed by connexins have been reported to exhibit tumor-suppressive functions, including in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). However, we find that connexin 26 (Cx26) is elevated in self-renewing cancer stem cells (CSCs) and is necessary and sufficient for their maintenance. Cx26 promotes CSC self-renewal by forming a signaling complex with the pluripotency transcription factor NANOG and focal adhesion kinase (FAK), resulting in NANOG stabilization and FAK activation. This FAK/NANOG-containing complex is not formed in mammary epithelial or luminal breast cancer cells. These findings challenge the paradigm that connexins are tumor suppressors in TNBC and reveal a unique function for Cx26 in regulating the core self-renewal signaling that controls CSC maintenance.
Heart failure is a leading cause of death, yet its underlying electrophysiological (EP) mechanisms are not well understood. In this study, we use a multiscale approach to analyze a model of heart failure and connect its results to features of the electrocardiogram (ECG). The heart failure model is derived by modifying a previously validated electrophysiology model for a healthy rabbit heart. Specifically, in accordance with the heart failure literature, we modified the cell EP by changing both membrane currents and calcium handling. At the tissue level, we modeled the increased gap junction lateralization and lower conduction velocity due to downregulation of Connexin 43. At the biventricular level, we reduced the apex-to-base and transmural gradients of action potential duration (APD). The failing cell model was first validated by reproducing the longer action potential, slower and lower calcium transient, and earlier alternans characteristic of heart failure EP. Subsequently, we compared the electrical wave propagation in one dimensional cables of healthy and failing cells. The validated cell model was then used to simulate the EP of heart failure in an anatomically accurate biventricular rabbit model. As pacing cycle length decreases, both the normal and failing heart develop T-wave alternans, but only the failing heart shows QRS alternans (although moderate) at rapid pacing. Moreover, T-wave alternans is significantly more pronounced in the failing heart. At rapid pacing, APD maps show areas of conduction block in the failing heart. Finally, accelerated pacing initiated wave reentry and breakup in the failing heart. Further, the onset of VF was not observed with an upregulation of SERCA, a potential drug therapy, using the same protocol. The changes introduced at the cell and tissue level have increased the failing heart’s susceptibility to dynamic instabilities and arrhythmias under rapid pacing. However, the observed increase in arrhythmogenic potential is not due to a steepening of the restitution curve (not present in our model), but rather to a novel blocking mechanism.
Homeostatic regulation of the partial pressure of CO2 (PCO2) is vital for life. Sensing of pH has been proposed as a sufficient proxy for determination of PCO2 and direct CO2-sensing largely discounted. Here we show that connexin 26 (Cx26) hemichannels, causally linked to respiratory chemosensitivity, are directly modulated by CO2. A ‘carbamylation motif’, present in CO2-sensitive connexins (Cx26, Cx30, Cx32) but absent from a CO2-insensitive connexin (Cx31), comprises Lys125 and four further amino acids that orient Lys125 towards Arg104 of the adjacent subunit of the connexin hexamer. Introducing the carbamylation motif into Cx31 created a mutant hemichannel (mCx31) that was opened by increases in PCO2. Mutation of the carbamylation motif in Cx26 and mCx31 destroyed CO2 sensitivity. Course-grained computational modelling of Cx26 demonstrated that the proposed carbamate bridge between Lys125 and Arg104 biases the hemichannel to the open state. Carbamylation of Cx26 introduces a new transduction principle for physiological sensing of CO2. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01213.001.
The coordination of complex tumor processes requires cells to rapidly modify their phenotype and is achieved by direct cell-cell communication through gap junction channels composed of connexins. Previous reports have suggested that gap junctions are tumor suppressive based on connexin 43 (Cx43), but this does not take into account differences in connexin-mediated ion selectivity and intercellular communication rate that drive gap junction diversity. We find that glioblastoma cancer stem cells (CSCs) possess functional gap junctions that can be targeted using clinically relevant compounds to reduce self-renewal and tumor growth. Our analysis reveals that CSCs express Cx46, while Cx43 is predominantly expressed in non-CSCs. During differentiation, Cx46 is reduced, while Cx43 is increased, and targeting Cx46 compromises CSC maintenance. The difference between Cx46 and Cx43 is reflected in elevated cell-cell communication and reduced resting membrane potential in CSCs. Our data demonstrate a pro-tumorigenic role for gap junctions that is dependent on connexin expression.
A fundamental feature of the mammalian neocortex is its columnar organization. In the visual cortex, functional columns consisting of neurons with similar orientation preferences have been characterized extensively, but how these columns are constructed during development remains unclear. The radial unit hypothesis posits that the ontogenetic columns formed by clonally related neurons migrating along the same radial glial fibre during corticogenesis provide the basis for functional columns in adult neocortex. However, a direct correspondence between the ontogenetic and functional columns has not been demonstrated. Here we show that, despite the lack of a discernible orientation map in mouse visual cortex, sister neurons in the same radial clone exhibit similar orientation preferences. Using a retroviral vector encoding green fluorescent protein to label radial clones of excitatory neurons, and in vivo two-photon calcium imaging to measure neuronal response properties, we found that sister neurons preferred similar orientations whereas nearby non-sister neurons showed no such relationship. Interestingly, disruption of gap junction coupling by viral expression of a dominant-negative mutant of Cx26 (also known as Gjb2) or by daily administration of a gap junction blocker, carbenoxolone, during the first postnatal week greatly diminished the functional similarity between sister neurons, suggesting that the maturation of ontogenetic into functional columns requires intercellular communication through gap junctions. Together with the recent finding of preferential excitatory connections among sister neurons, our results support the radial unit hypothesis and unify the ontogenetic and functional columns in the visual cortex.
Resistance of glioblastoma (GBM) to the front-line chemotherapeutic agent temozolomide (TMZ) continues to challenge GBM treatment efforts. The repair of TMZ-induced DNA damage by O-6-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase (MGMT) confers one mechanism of TMZ resistance. Paradoxically, MGMT-deficient GBM patients survive longer despite still developing resistance to TMZ. Recent studies indicate that the gap junction protein connexin 43 (Cx43) renders GBM cells resistant to TMZ through its carboxyl terminus (CT). In this study, we report insights into how Cx43 promotes TMZ resistance. Cx43 levels were inversely correlated with TMZ sensitivity of GBM cells, including GBM stem cells. Moreover, Cx43 levels inversely correlated with patient survival, including as observed in MGMT-deficient GBM patients. Addition of the C-terminal peptide mimetic αCT1, a selective inhibitor of Cx43 channels, sensitized human MGMT-deficient and TMZ-resistant GBM cells to TMZ treatment. Moreover, combining αCT1 with TMZ blocked AKT/mTOR signaling, induced autophagy and apoptosis in TMZ-resistant GBM cells. Our findings suggest that Cx43 may offer a biomarker to predict the survival of patients with MGMT-independent TMZ resistance, and that combining a Cx43 inhibitor with TMZ could enhance therapeutic responses in GBM and perhaps other TMZ-resistant cancers.