Gap junctions and connexin expression in the inner ear

Novartis Found Symp. 1999;219:134-50; discussion 151-6. doi: 10.1002/9780470515587.ch9.


Several different recessive mutations in the connexin26 (Cx26; beta 2) gene have been associated with non-syndromic hereditary deafness. This suggests gap junctions are important to cochlear function. Numerous large gap junctions are present between adjacent supporting cells in both the vestibular and auditory sensory epithelia of the mature inner ear. In vestibular organs, Cx26 is highly expressed, but antibodies of Cx32 (beta 1) also label the supporting cells. In the organ of Corti of the cochlea, Cx26 is the predominant connexin isoform; neither Cx32 nor Cx43 (alpha 1) can be detected by immunohistochemistry. One role for gap junctions between supporting cells may be to provide a pathway for the rapid removal of ions away from the region of the sensory cells during transduction in order to maintain sensitivity. In the cochlea gap junctions are also associated with the basal cells of the stria vascularis, an ion-transporting epithelium that maintains a positive electrical potential in the potassium-rich endolymph fluid which bathes the apical surfaces of the sensory 'hair' cells and which is crucial for auditory transduction. Gap junctions are present between fibrocytes in the spiral ligament that underlies the stria vascularis, and between these fibrocytes and strial basal cells. During cochlear development, the initial formation and subsequent increase in size and number of gap junctions in the stria vascularis coincides with the initial generation and rise of the endocochlear potential. This and other evidence suggests that one role of gap junctions in the cochlea is to provide a pathway for passage of ions to maintain endolymph and, thus, auditory acuity. Mutations to Cx26 could, therefore, disrupt this ion circulation, resulting in deafness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cochlea / cytology
  • Cochlea / metabolism
  • Connective Tissue / metabolism
  • Connexin 26
  • Connexins / biosynthesis*
  • Connexins / physiology
  • Ear, Inner / anatomy & histology
  • Ear, Inner / metabolism*
  • Ear, Inner / physiology*
  • Epithelial Attachment / metabolism
  • Epithelial Attachment / physiology
  • Gap Junctions / metabolism
  • Gap Junctions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis
  • Stria Vascularis / cytology
  • Stria Vascularis / metabolism


  • Connexins
  • GJB2 protein, human
  • Connexin 26