Stoichiometry of transjunctional voltage-gating polarity reversal by a negative charge substitution in the amino terminus of a connexin32 chimera

Seunghoon Oh, Charles K. Abrams, Vytas K. Verselis, Thaddeus A. Bargiello

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101 Scopus citations


Gap junctions are intercellular channels formed by the serial, head to head arrangement of two hemichannels. Each hemichannel is an oligomer of six protein subunits, which in vertebrates are encoded by the connexin gene family. All intercellular channels formed by connexins are sensitive to the relative difference in the membrane potential between coupled cells, the transjunctional voltage (V(j)), and gate by the separate action of their component hemichannels (Harris, A.L., D.C. Spray, and M.V. Bennett. 1981. J. Gen. Physiol. 77:95-117). We reported previously that the polarity of V(j) dependence is opposite for hemichannels formed by two closely related connexins, Cx32 and Cx26, when they are paired to form intercellular channels (Verselis, V.K., C.S. Ginter, and T.A. Bargiello. 1994. Nature. 368:348-351). The opposite gating polarity is due to a difference in the charge of the second amino acid. Negative charge substitutions of the neutral asparagine residue present in wild-type Cx32 (Cx32N2E or Cx32N2D) reverse the gating polarity of Cx32 hemichannels from closure at negative V(j) to closure at positive V(j). In this paper, we further examine the mechanism of polarity reversal by determining the gating polarity of a chimeric connexin, in which the first extracellular loop (E1) of Cx32 is replaced with that of Cx43 (Cx43E1). The resulting chimera, Cx32*Cx43E1, forms conductive hemichannels when expressed in single Xenopus oocytes and intercellular channels in pairs of oocytes (Pfahnl, A., X.W. Zhou, R. Werner, and G. Dahl. 1997. Pflugers Arch. 433:733-779). We demonstrate that the polarity of V(j) dependence of Cx32*Cx43E1 hemichannels in intercellular pairings is the same as that of wild-type Cx32 hemichannels and is reversed by the N2E substitution. In records of single intercellular channels, V(j) dependence is characterized by gating transitions between fully open and subconductance levels. Comparable transitions are observed in Cx32*Cx43E1 conductive hemichannels at negative membrane potentials and the polarity of these transitions is reversed by the N2E substitution. We conclude that the mechanism of V(j) dependence of intercellular channels is conserved in conductive hemichannels and term the process V(j) gating. Heteromeric conductive hemichannels comprised of Cx32*Cx43E1 and Cx32N2E*Cx43E1 subunits display bipolar V(j) gating, closing to substates at both positive and negative membrane potentials. The number of bipolar hemichannels observed in cells expressing mixtures of the two connexin subunits coincides with the number of hemichannels that are expected to contain a single oppositely charged subunit. We conclude that the movement of the voltage sensor in a single connexin subunit is sufficient to initiate V(j) gating. We further suggest that V(j) gating results from conformational changes in individual connexin subunits rather than by a concerted change in the conformation of all six subunits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-31
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of General Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2000


  • Bipolar gating
  • Gap junction
  • Gating mechanisms
  • Ion channels
  • Voltage dependence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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