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Concept: Gap junction


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.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, In vitro, Gap junction, Connexin, Pannexin, Innexin


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.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Metabolism, Cell culture, Cell signaling, Gap junction, Connexin, Pannexin


Astrocytes are the most populous glial subtype and are critical for brain function. Despite this, historically there have been few studies into the role that they may have in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease (PD). Recently, however, several studies have determined that genes known to have a causative role in the development of PD are expressed in astrocytes and have important roles in astrocyte function. Here, we review these recent developments and discuss their impact on our understanding of the pathophysiology of PD, and the implications that this might have for its treatment.

Concepts: Medicine, Sociology, Neurology, Neurodegenerative disorders, Parkinson's disease, Gap junction, Social sciences, Blood-brain barrier


Glial cells are now recognized as active communication partners in the central nervous system, and this new perspective has rekindled the question of their role in pathology. In the present study we analysed functional properties of astrocytes in hippocampal specimens from patients with mesial temporal lobe epilepsy without (n = 44) and with sclerosis (n = 75) combining patch clamp recording, K(+) concentration analysis, electroencephalography/video-monitoring, and fate mapping analysis. We found that the hippocampus of patients with mesial temporal lobe epilepsy with sclerosis is completely devoid of bona fide astrocytes and gap junction coupling, whereas coupled astrocytes were abundantly present in non-sclerotic specimens. To decide whether these glial changes represent cause or effect of mesial temporal lobe epilepsy with sclerosis, we developed a mouse model that reproduced key features of human mesial temporal lobe epilepsy with sclerosis. In this model, uncoupling impaired K(+) buffering and temporally preceded apoptotic neuronal death and the generation of spontaneous seizures. Uncoupling was induced through intraperitoneal injection of lipopolysaccharide, prevented in Toll-like receptor4 knockout mice and reproduced in situ through acute cytokine or lipopolysaccharide incubation. Fate mapping confirmed that in the course of mesial temporal lobe epilepsy with sclerosis, astrocytes acquire an atypical functional phenotype and lose coupling. These data suggest that astrocyte dysfunction might be a prime cause of mesial temporal lobe epilepsy with sclerosis and identify novel targets for anti-epileptogenic therapeutic intervention.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Temporal lobe, Hippocampus, Epilepsy, Gap junction, Temporal lobe epilepsy


Motoneuron loss and reactive astrocytosis are pathological hallmarks of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a paralytic neurodegenerative disease that can be triggered by mutations in Cu-Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD1). Dysfunctional astrocytes contribute to ALS pathogenesis, inducing motoneuron damage and accelerating disease progression. However, it is unknown whether ALS progression is associated with the appearance of a specific astrocytic phenotype with neurotoxic potential. Here, we report the isolation of astrocytes with aberrant phenotype (referred as “AbA cells”) from primary spinal cord cultures of symptomatic rats expressing the SOD1(G93A) mutation. Isolation was based on AbA cells' marked proliferative capacity and lack of replicative senescence, which allowed oligoclonal cell expansion for 1 y. AbA cells displayed astrocytic markers including glial fibrillary acidic protein, S100β protein, glutamine synthase, and connexin 43 but lacked glutamate transporter 1 and the glial progenitor marker NG2 glycoprotein. Notably, AbA cells secreted soluble factors that induced motoneuron death with a 10-fold higher potency than neonatal SOD1(G93A) astrocytes. AbA-like aberrant astrocytes expressing S100β and connexin 43 but lacking NG2 were identified in nearby motoneurons, and their number increased sharply after disease onset. Thus, AbA cells appear to be an as-yet unknown astrocyte population arising during ALS progression with unprecedented proliferative and neurotoxic capacity and may be potential cellular targets for slowing ALS progression.

Concepts: Superoxide dismutase, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Gap junction, Glutamate transporter, Astrocyte, Excitotoxicity, Glial fibrillary acidic protein, SOD1


Although the adult mammalian spinal cord lacks intrinsic neurogenic capacity, glial cells can be reprogrammed in vivo to generate neurons after spinal cord injury (SCI). How this reprogramming process is molecularly regulated, however, is not clear. Through a series of in vivo screens, we show here that the p53-dependent pathway constitutes a critical checkpoint for SOX2-mediated reprogramming of resident glial cells in the adult mouse spinal cord. While it has no effect on the reprogramming efficiency, the p53 pathway promotes cell-cycle exit of SOX2-induced adult neuroblasts (iANBs). As such, silencing of either p53 or p21 markedly boosts the overall production of iANBs. A neurotrophic milieu supported by BDNF and NOG can robustly enhance maturation of these iANBs into diverse but predominantly glutamatergic neurons. Together, these findings have uncovered critical molecular and cellular checkpoints that may be manipulated to boost neuron regeneration after SCI.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Spinal cord, Cell cycle, P53, Myelin, Glial cell, Gap junction


Glycogen is present in the brain, where it has been found mainly in glial cells but not in neurons. Therefore, all physiologic roles of brain glycogen have been attributed exclusively to astrocytic glycogen. Working with primary cultured neurons, as well as with genetically modified mice and flies, here we report that-against general belief-neurons contain a low but measurable amount of glycogen. Moreover, we also show that these cells express the brain isoform of glycogen phosphorylase, allowing glycogen to be fully metabolized. Most importantly, we show an active neuronal glycogen metabolism that protects cultured neurons from hypoxia-induced death and flies from hypoxia-induced stupor. Our findings change the current view of the role of glycogen in the brain and reveal that endogenous neuronal glycogen metabolism participates in the neuronal tolerance to hypoxic stress.Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism advance online publication, 26 February 2014; doi:10.1038/jcbfm.2014.33.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Glycogen, Cerebral cortex, Cerebellum, Glial cell, Gap junction


Individuals with autism who show high abilities are called savants. Whereas in their brains a disconnection in and between neural networks has been identified, savantism is yet poorly understood. Focusing on astrocyte domain organization, it is hypothesized that local astrocyte mega-organizations may be responsible for exerting high capabilities in brains of autistic savants. Astrocytes, the dominant glial cell type, modulate synaptic information transmission. Each astrocyte is organized in non-overlapping domains. Formally, each astrocyte contacting n-neurons with m-synapses via its processes generates dynamic domains of synaptic interactions based on qualitative computation criteria, and hereby it structures neuronal information processing. If the number of processes is genetically significantly increased, these astrocytes operate in a mega-domain with a higher complexitiy of computation. From this model savant abilities are deduced.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Autism, Myelin, Glial cells, Gap junction, Savant syndrome, Savant


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.

Concepts: Gene expression, Cell, Cell culture, Cytotoxicity, Gap junction, Ginseng, Connexin, Panax pseudoginseng


d-Serine is an endogenous ligand for NMDARs generated from l-serine by the enzyme serine racemase (Srr). Both neuronal and glial localizations have been reported for d-serine and Srr. 3-Phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase is an exclusively astrocytic enzyme that catalyzes the first committed step of l-serine biosynthesis. Using transgenic mice expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein under the Srr promoter and mice with targeted deletion of Srr or 3-Phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase, we demonstrate predominantly neuronal sources of d-serine dependent on astrocytic supply of l-serine. These findings clarify the cellular basis for the regulation of NMDAR neurotransmission by d-serine.

Concepts: Neuron, Molecular biology, Metabolism, Enzyme, Glial cell, Gap junction, Serine, Serine racemase