Intercellular communication in spinal cord astrocytes: Fine tuning between gap junctions and P2 nucleotide receptors in calcium wave propagation

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Electrophysiological properties of gap junction channels and mechanisms involved in the propagation of intercellular calcium waves were studied in cultured spinal cord astrocytes from sibling wild-type (WT) and connexin43 (Cx43) knock-out (KO) mice. Comparison of the strength of coupling between pairs of WT and Cx43 KO spinal cord astrocytes indicates that two-thirds of total coupling is attributable to channels formed by Cx43, with other connexins contributing the remaining one-third of junctional conductance. Although such a difference in junctional conductance was expected to result in the reduced diffusion of signaling molecules through the Cx43 KO spinal cord syncytium, intercellular calcium waves were found to propagate with the same velocity and amplitude and to the same number of cells as between WT astrocytes. Measurements of calcium wave propagation in the presence of purinoceptor blockers indicate that calcium waves in Cx43 KO spinal cord astrocytes are mediated primarily by extracellular diffusion of ATP; measurements of responses to purinoceptor agonists revealed that the functional P2Y receptor subtype is shifted in the Cx43 KO astrocytes, with a markedly potentiated response to ATP and UTP. Thus, the reduction in gap junctional communication in Cx43 KO astrocytes leads to an increase in autocrine communication, which is a consequence of a functional switch in the P2Y nucleotide receptor subtype. Intercellular communication via calcium waves therefore is sustained in Cx43 null mice by a finely tuned interaction between gap junction-dependent and independent mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1435-1445
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2000



  • Calcium waves
  • Connexin
  • Connexin43
  • Glia
  • Knock- out mice
  • Purinoceptor
  • Spinal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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