Journal of Membrane Biology vol:245 issue:8 pages:437-449
Gap junctions are key components underpinning multicellularity. They provide cell to cell channel pathways that enable direct intercellular communication and cellular coordination in tissues and organs. The channels are constructed of a family of connexin (Cx) membrane proteins. They oligomerize inside the cell, generating hemichannels (connexons) composed of six subunits arranged around a central channel. After transfer to the plasma membrane, arrays of Cx hemichannels (CxHcs) interact and couple with partners in neighboring attached cells to generate gap junctions. Cx channels have been studied using a range of technical approaches. Short peptides corresponding to sequences in the extra- and intracellular regions of Cxs were used first to generate epitope-specific antibodies that helped studies on the organization and functions of gap junctions. Subsequently, the peptides themselves, especially Gap26 and -27, mimetic peptides derived from each of the two extracellular loops of connexin43 (Cx43), a widely distributed Cx, have been extensively applied to block Cx channels and probe the biology of cell communication. The development of a further series of short peptides mimicking sequences in the intracellular loop, especially the extremity of the intracellular carboxyl tail of Cx43, followed. The primary inhibitory action of the peptidomimetics occurs at CxHcs located at unapposed regions of the cell's plasma membrane, followed by inhibition of cell coupling occurring across gap junctions. CxHcs respond to a range of environmental conditions by increasing their open probability. Peptidomimetics provide a way to block the actions of CxHcs with some selectivity. Furthermore, they are increasingly applied to address the pathological consequences of a range of environmental stresses that are thought to influence Cx channel operation. Cx peptidomimetics show promise as candidates in developing new therapeutic approaches for containing and reversing damage inflicted on CxHcs, especially in hypoxia and ischemia in the heart and in brain functions.