Gap junction channels, now known to be formed of connexins, connect the interiors of apposed cells. These channels can be opened and closed by various physiological stimuli and experimental treatments. They are permeable to ions and neutral molecules up to a size of about 1 kDa or 1.5 nm diameter, including second messengers and metabolites. The processes of gating and of permeation are the subject of this review. Voltage is a readily applied stimulus, and transjunctional voltages, or those between cytoplasm and exterior, affect most junctions. Single channel transitions between open and closed states are rapid and presumably involve a charge movement as occurs with channels of electrically excitable channels of nerve and muscle. Identification of gating domains and charges by domain replacement and site-directed mutagenesis is being pursued. Raising cytoplasmic H+ or Ca2+ concentrations rapidly reduces junctional conductance, and this action is generally reversible, at least in part. A number of lipophilic alcohols, fatty acids and volatile anesthetics have similar actions. Phosphorylation also modulates junctional conductance, and in several cases, sites of phosphorylation are known. These gating processes appear similar to those induced by voltage. Permeability measurement indicates that the channel is aqueous and that permeation is by diffusion with only minor interactions with the channel wall. Differences among junctions are known, but further characterization of connexin and cell specificity is required.
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