Structural basis for the selective permeability of channels made of communicating junction proteins

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55 Scopus citations


The open state(s) of gap junction channels is evident from their permeation by small ions in response to an applied intercellular (transjunctional/ transchannel) voltage gradient. That an open channel allows variable amounts of current to transit from cell-to-cell in the face of a constant intercellular voltage difference indicates channel open/closing can be complete or partial. The physiological significance of such open state options is, arguably, the main concern of junctional regulation. Because gap junctions are permeable to many substances, it is sensible to inquire whether and how each open state influences the intercellular diffusion of molecules as valuable as, but less readily detected than current-carrying ions. Presumably, structural changes perceived as shifts in channel conductivity would significantly alter the transjunctional diffusion of molecules whose limiting diameter approximates the pore's limiting diameter. Moreover, changes in junctional permeability to some molecules might occur without evident changes in conductivity, either at macroscopic or single channel level. Open gap junction channels allow the exchange of cytoplasmic permeants between contacting cells by simple diffusion. The identity of such permeants, and the functional circumstances and consequences of their junctional exchange presently constitute the most urgent (and demanding) themes of the field. Here, we consider the necessity for regulating this exchange, the possible mechanism(s) and structural elements likely involved in such regulation, and how regulatory phenomena could be perceived as changes in chemical vs. electrical coupling; an overall reflection on our collective knowledge of junctional communication is then applied to suggest new avenues of research. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: The Communicating junctions, roles and dysfunctions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-68
Number of pages18
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013


  • Gap junction
  • Permeability
  • Regulation
  • Selectivity
  • Synchronization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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