Several new findings have emphasized the role of neuron-specific gap junction proteins (connexins) and electrical synapses in processing sensory information and in synchronizing the activity of neuronal networks. We have recently shown that pannexins constitute an additional family of proteins that can form gap junction channels in a heterologous expression system and are also widely expressed in distinct neuronal populations in the brain, where they may represent a novel class of electrical synapses. In this study, we have exploited the hemichannel-forming properties of pannexins to investigate their sensitivity to well-known connexin blockers. By combining biochemical and electrophysiological approaches, we report here further evidence for the interaction of pannexin1 (Px1) with Px2 and demonstrate that the pharmacological sensitivity of heteromeric Px1/Px2 is similar to that of homomeric Px1 channels. In contrast to most connexins, both Px1 and Px1/Px2 hemichannels were not gated by external Ca2+. In addition, they exhibited a remarkable sensitivity to blockade by carbenoxolone (with an IC50 of approximately 5 microm), whereas flufenamic acid exerted only a modest inhibitory effect. The opposite was true in the case of connexin46 (Cx46), thus indicating that gap junction blockers are able to selectively modulate pannexin and connexin channels.
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