Three family members compose the pannexin family of channel-forming glycoproteins (Panx1, Panx2 and Panx3). Their primary function is defined by their capacity to form single-membrane channels that are regulated by post-translational modifications, channel intermixing, and sub-cellular expression profiles. Panx1 is ubiquitously expressed in many mammalian tissues, while Panx2 and Panx3 appear to be more restricted in their expression. Paracrine functions of Panx1 as an ATP release channel have been extensively studied and this channel plays a key role, among others, in the release of find-me signals for apoptotic cell clearance. In addition Panx1 has been linked to propagation of calcium waves, regulation of vascular tone, mucociliary lung clearance, taste-bud function and has been shown to act like a tumor suppressor in gliomas. Panx1 channel opening can also be detrimental, contributing to cell death and seizures under ischemic or epileptic conditions and even facilitating HIV-1 viral infection. Panx2 is involved in differentiation of neurons while Panx3 plays a role in the differentiation of chondrocytes, osteoblasts and the maturation and transport of sperm. Using the available Panx1 knockout mouse models it has now become possible to explore some of its physiological functions. However, given the potential for one pannexin to compensate for another it seems imperative to generate single and double knockout mouse models involving all three pannexins and evaluate their interplay in normal differentiation and development as well as in malignant transformation and disease. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: The communicating junctions, roles and dysfunctions. © 2012 Elsevier B.V.
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