The gap junction family: structure, function and chemistry

Rolf Dermietzel, T. K. Hwang, D. S. Spray

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


Gap junctions are aggregates of transmembranous channels which bypass the extracellular space by transporting messenger molecules and ions from one cytoplasmic source to an adjacent cytoplasmic interior. The channels join the plasma membranes of adjacent cells by bridging the extracellular space between them. Thereby, cellular "compartments" which were once considered to be individual units are, in actuality, interconnected by a system of pathways which form a functional cellular syncytium. The evolutionary importance of a generalized intercellular communication system can be appreciated when one considers the widespread prevalence of gap junctions within animals of all multicellular phyla, and within almost all tissues of vertebrates. Only a few population of cells such as skeletal muscle cells (which are fused to form functional syncytia) and circulating blood cells are not equipped with gap junctions. This paper provides a brief review of the diverse structural, molecular and functional aspects of gap junctions as revealed by current research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)517-528
Number of pages12
JournalAnatomy and Embryology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 1990


  • Chemistry
  • Function
  • Gap junction
  • Molecular biology
  • Structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Embryology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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