Molecular characterization and embryonic expression of innexins in the leech Hirudo medicinalis
Gap junctions are direct intercellular channels that permit the passage of ions and small signaling molecules. The temporal and spatial regulation of gap junctional communication is, thus, one mechanism by which cell interactions, and hence cell properties and cell fate, may be regulated during development. The nervous system of the leech, Hirudo medicinalis, is a particularly advantageous system in which to study developmental mechanisms involving gap junctions because interactions between identified cells may be studied in vivo in both the embryo and the adult. As in most invertebrates, gap junctions in the leech are composed of innexin proteins, which are distantly related to the vertebrate pannexins and are encoded by a multi-gene family. We have cloned ten novel leech innexins and describe the expression of these, plus two other previously reported members of this gene family, in the leech embryo between embryonic days 6 and 12, a period during which the main features of the central nervous system are established. Four innexins are expressed in neurons and two in glia, while several innexins are expressed in the excretory, circulatory, and reproductive organs. Of particular interest is Hm-inx6, whose expression appears to be restricted to the characterized S cell and two other neurons putatively identified as presynaptic to this cell. Two other innexins also show highly restricted expressions in neurons and may be developmentally regulated.