Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Voltage opens unopposed gap junction hemichannels formed by a connexin 32 mutant associated with X-linked Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

PMID 11891346


The X-linked form of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMTX) is an inherited peripheral neuropathy that arises in patients with mutations in the gene encoding the gap junction protein connexin 32 (Cx32), which is expressed by Schwann cells. We recently showed that Cx32 containing the CMTX-associated mutation, Ser-85-Cys (S85C), forms functional cell-cell channels in paired Xenopus oocytes. Here, we describe that this mutant connexin also shows increased opening of hemichannels in nonjunctional surface membrane. Open hemichannels may damage the cells through loss of ionic gradients and small metabolites and increased influx of Ca(2+), and provide a mechanism by which this and other mutant forms of Cx32 may damage cells in which they are expressed. Evidence for open hemichannels includes: (i) oocytes expressing the Cx32(S85C) mutant show greatly increased conductance at inside positive potentials, significantly larger than in oocytes expressing wild-type Cx32 (Cx32WT); and (ii) the induced currents are similar to those previously described for several other connexin hemichannels, and exhibit slowly developing increases with increasing levels of positivity and reversible reduction when intracellular pH is decreased or extracellular Ca(2+) concentration is increased. Although increased currents are seen, oocytes expressing Cx32(S85C) have lower levels of the protein in the surface and in total homogenates than do oocytes expressing Cx32WT; thus, under the conditions examined here, hemichannels in the surface membrane formed of the Cx32(S85C) mutant have a higher open probability than hemichannels formed of Cx32WT. This increase in functional hemichannels may damage Schwann cells and ultimately lead to loss of function in peripheral nerves of patients harboring this mutation.