Gap junction (GJ) channels, formed of connexin (Cx) proteins, provide a direct pathway for metabolic and electrical cell-to-cell communication. These specialized channels are not just passive conduits for the passage of ions and metabolites but have been shown to gate robustly in response to transjunctional voltage, Vj, the voltage difference between two coupled cells. Voltage gating of GJs could play a physiological role, particularly in excitable cells, which can generate large transients in membrane potential during the propagation of action potentials. We present a mathematical/computational model of GJ channel voltage gating to assess properties of GJ channels that takes into account contingent gating of two series hemichannels and the distribution of Vj across each hemichannel. From electrophysiological recordings in cell cultures expressing Cx43 or Cx45, the principal isoforms expressed in cardiac tissue, various data sets were fitted simultaneously using global optimization. The results showed that the model is capable of describing both steady-state and kinetic properties of homotypic and heterotypic GJ channels composed of these Cxs. Moreover, mathematical analyses showed that the model can be simplified to a reversible two-state system and solved analytically using a rapid equilibrium assumption. Given that excitable cells are arranged in interconnected networks, the equilibrium assumption allows for a substantial reduction in computation time, which is useful in simulations of large clusters of coupled cells. Overall, this model can serve as a tool for the studying of GJ channel gating and its effects on the spread of excitation in networks of electrically coupled cells.
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