Sáez, Juan C., Viviana M. Berthoud, María C. Brañes, Agustín D. Martínez, and Eric C. Beyer. Plasma Membrane Channels Formed by Connexins: Their Regulation and Functions. Physiol Rev 83: 1359-1400, 2003; 10.1152/physrev.00007.2003.—Members of the connexin gene family are integral membrane proteins that form hexamers called connexons. Most cells express two or more connexins. Open connexons found at the nonjunctional plasma membrane connect the cell interior with the extracellular milieu. They have been implicated in physiological functions including paracrine intercellular signaling and in induction of cell death under pathological conditions. Gap junction channels are formed by docking of two connexons and are found at cell-cell appositions. Gap junction channels are responsible for direct intercellular transfer of ions and small molecules including propagation of inositol trisphosphate-dependent calcium waves. They are involved in coordinating the electrical and metabolic responses of heterogeneous cells. New approaches have expanded our knowledge of channel structure and connexin biochemistry (e.g., protein trafficking/assembly, phosphorylation, and interactions with other connexins or other proteins). The physiological role of gap junctions in several tissues has been elucidated by the discovery of mutant connexins associated with genetic diseases and by the generation of mice with targeted ablation of specific connexin genes. The observed phenotypes range from specific tissue dysfunction to embryonic lethality.
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