The role of gap junction membrane channels in development
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In most developmental systems, gap junction-mediated cell-cell communication (GJC) can be detected from very early stages of embryogenesis. This usually results in the entire embryo becoming linked as a syncytium. However, as development progresses, GJC becomes restricted at discrete boundaries, leading to the subdivision of the embryo into communication compartment domains. Analysis of gap junction gene expression suggests that this functional subdivision of GJC may be mediated by the differential expression of the connexin gene family. The temporal-spatial pattern of connexin gene expression during mouse embryogenesis is highly suggestive of a role for gap junctions in inductive interactions, being regionally restricted in distinct developmentally significant domains. Using reverse genetic approaches to manipulate connexin gene function, direct evidence has been obtained for the connexin 43 (Cx43) gap junction gene playing a role in mammalian development. The challenges in the future are the identification of the target cell populations and the cell signaling processes in which Cx43-mediated cell-cell interactions are critically required in mammalian development. Our preliminary observations suggest that neural crest cells may be one such cell population.
Key wordsDevelopment gap junctions mouse embryos Drosophila connexin 43 transgenic mouse neural tube defects neural crest cells
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