- (1) From the ‡Center for Neuroscience and
- (2) The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, grid.267309.9
- (3) University of Copenhagen, grid.5254.6, KU
Gap junctions confer interconnectivity of the cytoplasm in neighboring cells via docking of two connexons expressed in each of the adjacent membranes. Undocked connexons, referred to as hemichannels, may open and connect the cytoplasm with the extracellular fluid. The hemichannel configuration of connexins (Cxs) displays isoform-specific permeability profiles that are not directly determined by the size and charge of the permeant. To further explore Ca2+-mediated gating and permeability features of connexin hemichannels, we heterologously expressed Cx30 hemichannels in Xenopus laevis oocytes. The sensitivity toward divalent cation-mediated gating differed between small atomic ions (current) and fluorescent dye permeants, indicating that these permeants are distinctly gated. Three aspartate residues in Cx30 (Asp-50, Asp-172, and Asp-179) have been implicated previously in the Ca2+ sensitivity of other hemichannel isoforms. Although the aspartate at position Asp-50 was indispensable for divalent cation-dependent gating of Cx30 hemichannels, substitutions of the two other residues had no significant effect on gating, illustrating differences in the gating mechanisms between connexin isoforms. Using the substituted cysteine accessibility method (SCAM), we evaluated the role of possible pore-lining residues in the permeation of ions and ethidium through Cx30 hemichannels. Of the cysteine-substituted residues, interaction of a proposed pore-lining cysteine at position 37 with the positively charged compound [2-(trimethylammonium)ethyl] methane thiosulfonate bromide (MTS-ET) increased Cx30-mediated currents with unperturbed ethidium permeability. In summary, our results demonstrate that the permeability of hemichannels is regulated in a permeant-specific manner and underscores that hemichannels are selective rather than non-discriminating and freely diffusable pores.