Autophagy modulates dynamics of connexins at the plasma membrane in a ubiquitin-dependent manner

Eloy Bejarano-Fernandez, Henrique Girao, Andrea Yuste, Bindi Patel, Carla Marques, David C. Spray, Paulo Pereira, Ana Maria Cuervo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Different pathways contribute to the turnover of connexins, the main structural components of gap junctions (GJs). The cellular pool of connexins targeted to each pathway and the functional consequences of degradation through these degradative pathways are unknown. In this work, we focused on the contribution of macroautophagy to connexin degradation. Using pharmacological and genetic blockage of macroautophagy both in vitro and in vivo, we found that the cellular pool targeted by this autophagic system is primarily the one organized into GJs. Interruption of connexins' macroautophagy resulted in their retention at the plasma membrane in the form of functional GJs and subsequent increased GJ-mediated intercellular diffusion. Up-regulation of macroautophagy alone is not sufficient to induce connexin internalization and degradation. To better understand what factors determine the autophagic degradation of GJ connexins, we analyzed the changes undergone by the fraction of plasma membrane connexin 43 targeted for macroautophagy and the sequence of events that trigger this process. We found that Nedd4-mediated ubiquitinylation of the connexin molecule is required to recruit the adaptor protein Eps15 to the GJ and to initiate the autophagy-dependent internalization and degradation of connexin 43. This study reveals a novel regulatory role for macroautophagy in GJ function that is directly dependent on the ubiquitinylation of plasma membrane connexins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2156-2169
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular biology of the cell
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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