, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 459-469

Gap junctions and the propagation of cell survival and cell death signals

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Gap junctions are a unique type of intercellular channels that connect the cytoplasm of adjoining cells. Each gap junction channel is comprised of two hemichannels or connexons and each connexon is formed by the aggregation of six protein subunits known as connexins. Gap junction channels allow the intercellular passage of small (< 1.5 kDa) molecules and regulate essential processes during development and differentiation. However, their role in cell survival and cell death is poorly understood. We review experimental data that support the hypothesis that gap junction channels may propagate cell death and survival modulating signals. In addition, we explore the hypothesis that hemichannels (or unapposed connexons) might be used as a paracrine conduit to spread factors that modulate the fate of the surrounding cells. Finally, direct signal transduction activity of connexins in cell death and survival pathways is addressed.

These authors share senior authorship.
This study was supported by Ghent University GOA grant no. 12050502.
This revised version was published online in May 2005 with corrections to one author’s email address.