PURPOSE: Intercellular Ca(2+) wave propagation is a distinct form of cell-cell communication. In corneal endothelial cells, intercellular Ca(2+) wave propagation evoked by a point mechanical stimulus (PMS) is partially mediated by adenosine triphosphate (ATP) release and subsequent activation of P2Y receptors. This study was conducted to investigate the possibility that extrajunctional connexons (hemichannels) play a role in ATP release during PMS-induced Ca(2+) wave propagation in bovine corneal endothelial cells (BCECs). METHODS: A Ca(2+) wave was evoked by a PMS applied to a single cell in a monolayer of cultured BCECs. Changes in [Ca(2+)](i) in the mechanically stimulated cell (MS cell) and in the neighboring (NB) cells were visualized by fluorescence imaging using the Ca(2+)-sensitive dye Fluo-4. From these images, the maximum normalized fluorescence (NF), the percentage of responsive cells (%RC), and the total area of cells reached by the Ca(2+) wave (active area [AA], in square micrometers) were calculated. Intercellular dye transfer, generally attributed to gap junctional coupling, was assessed by fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) using 6-carboxyfluorescein diacetate. Opening of hemichannels was investigated by measuring cellular uptake of the fluorescent dye Lucifer yellow, which is known to permeate hemichannels. ATP release was measured by luciferin-luciferase bioluminescence. RESULTS: Flufenamic acid (FFA; 50 microM) and the connexin mimetic peptide Gap26 (300 microM), known blockers of hemichannels, significantly reduced AA in confluent monolayers as well as in contact-free cells. Neither FFA nor Gap26 affected the FRAP, indicating that reduction in AA of the PMS-induced wave by these agents is not due to a block of gap junction channels. FFA as well as Gap26 inhibited the increase in AA of the wave that was observed when cells were pretreated with the ectonucleotidase inhibitor ARL-67156 (100 microM). These findings suggest that the hemichannel blockers reduce the Ca(2+) wave propagation by inhibiting ATP release. Consistent with this finding, PMS or exposure to Ca(2+)-free solution (a maneuver known to induce the opening of hemichannels) led to ATP release; moreover, the release was inhibited by the hemichannel blockers. The extracellular ATP levels in response to both PMS and extracellular Ca(2+) removal were strongly enhanced by ARL-67156, and this effect was inhibited by FFA as well as by Gap26. Moreover, pretreatment of subconfluent BCEC monolayers with FFA or Gap26 inhibited the uptake of Lucifer yellow induced by removal of extracellular Ca(2+). CONCLUSIONS: Hemichannels contribute to ATP release on mechanical stimulation in BCECs. The released ATP contributes to propagation of the Ca(2+) wave.