Connexin proteins form the gap junction channels that mediate direct intercellular molecular communication crucial in development, physiology and response to trauma/inflammation/disease. Mutations in connexins cause human pathologies. Elucidation of the molecular mechanisms that regulate connexin channel function is essential for understanding their roles in human physiology and pathophysiology, and to identify targets for translational and basic science studies. The long-term goal of this project is to understand the cytosolic inter-domain interactions of connexin proteins that control channel gating. In connexin43 (Cx43), interactions between the cytoplasmic loop (CL) and the C-terminal domain (CT) is crucially involved physiological function of the channel and is a target for cardiovascular therapies. However, the roles and mechanisms of CL-CT interactions in modulation of other connexin channels, just as likely to be biomedically important, have not been explored. We have found that Cx26 channels are modulated by CL-CT interactions. Cx26 and Cx43 are representative members of the two largest families of connexins. Though structurally analogous, the effects of CL-CT interaction on Cx26 channel function seem to be fundamentally different from those in Cx43, suggesting that CL-CT interaction is a common modulatory mechanism in connexins, yet operates in connexin-specific ways. We propose to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of CL-CT control of channel function using Cx26 and its closely related isoform Cx32. Cx26 is the only connexin channel for which there is a high-resolution structure, making it the cornerstone for structure-based studies of all connexin channels. The proposed studies explore the basis and mechanisms of CL-CT interactions and channel properties they modulate, using strategies successfully applied to other channels, including macroscopic and single channel recordings, use of competing peptides, engineered Cys linkages and mutational analysis. The experiments utilize intact channels, complemented by peptide NMR. We propose to (a) determine the involvement of CL-CT interactions in channel gating, (b) identify the sites of CL-CT interactions, and (c) determine how CL-CT interaction and its effects are altered by mutations that cause human disease. Cx26 and Cx32 are widely distributed in the body. Cx26 mutations cause over half the inherited non-syndromic sensorineural deafness worldwide, and serious disfiguring skin disorders. Cx32 mutations cause a peripheral demyelination. Significantly, in both connexins many disease-causing mutations are in the CL and CT domains. Both connexins are involved in a wide range of pathological and physiological processes, so understanding the basis for their dysregulation has broad biomedical implications, for these connexins and others. The large number of disease causing mutations and the extensive experience of both PIs in studying gating and permeability of Cx26 and Cx32 channels provide a basis for productive, informative investigation of CL-CT interactions, how they are altered by pathological mutations and the effects on channel function.

Public Health Relevance

This project will provide essential information regarding a heretofore unexplored mechanism by which intercellular molecular signaling throughout the body is modulated. Defects in this signaling cause a multitude of human pathologies, so elucidation of the mechanisms that determine its key functional properties is essential for identification of sites of intervention. This project is specifically targeted at the modulation of intercellular signaling in proteins that, when mutated, cause human diseases (e.g., deafness in one case, and a neurological disorder in the other).

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-MDCN-J (04))
Program Officer
Nie, Zhongzhen
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Rutgers University
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Harris, Andrew L (2018) Electrical coupling and its channels. J Gen Physiol 150:1606-1639
Trease, Andrew J; Capuccino, Juan M V; Contreras, Jorge et al. (2017) Intramolecular signaling in a cardiac connexin: Role of cytoplasmic domain dimerization. J Mol Cell Cardiol 111:69-80
Lopez, William; Ramachandran, Jayalakshmi; Alsamarah, Abdelaziz et al. (2016) Mechanism of gating by calcium in connexin hemichannels. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 113:E7986-E7995
Tong, Xuhui; Lopez, William; Ramachandran, Jayalakshmi et al. (2015) Glutathione release through connexin hemichannels: Implications for chemical modification of pores permeable to large molecules. J Gen Physiol 146:245-54
Harris, Andrew L; Contreras, Jorge E (2014) Motifs in the permeation pathway of connexin channels mediate voltage and Ca (2+) sensing. Front Physiol 5:113