Physiological Role of Gap-Junctional Hemichannels

  • Quist A
  • Rhee S
  • Lin H
  • et al.
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Hemichannels in the overlapping regions of apposing cells plasma membranes join to form gap junctions and provide an intercellular communication pathway. Hemichannels are also present in the nonjunctional regions of individual cells and their activity is gated by several agents, including calcium. However, their physiological roles are unknown. Using techniques of atomic force microscopy (AFM), fluorescent dye uptake assay, and laser confocal immunofluorescence imaging, we have examined the extracellular calcium-dependent modulation of cell volume. In response to a change in the extracellular physiological calcium concentration (1.8 to ≤1.6 mM) in an otherwise isosmotic condition, real-time AFM imaging revealed a significant and reversible increase in the volume of cells expressing gap-junctional proteins (connexins). Volume change did not occur in cells that were not expressing connexins. However, after the transient or stable transfection of connexin43, volume change did occur. The volume increase was accompanied by cytochalasin D-sensitive higher cell stiffness, which helped maintain cell integrity. These cellular physical changes were prevented by gap-junctional blockers, oleamide and β-glycyrrhetinic acid, or were reversed by returning extracellular calcium to the normal level. We conclude that nongap-junctional hemichannels regulate cell volume in response to the change in extracellular physiological calcium in an otherwise isosmotic situation.




Quist, A. P., Rhee, S. K., Lin, H., & Lal, R. (2000). Physiological Role of Gap-Junctional Hemichannels. The Journal of Cell Biology, 148(5), 1063–1074.

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