Retinal neurons of virtually every type are coupled by gap-junctional channels whose pharmacological and gating properties have been studied extensively. We have begun to identify the molecular composition and functional properties of the connexins that form these 'electrical synapses,' and have cloned several that constitute a new subclass (gamma) of the connexin family expressed predominantly in retina and brain. In this paper, we present a series of experiments characterizing connexin36 (Cx36), a member of the gamma subclass that was cloned from a mouse retinal cDNA library. Cx36 has been localized to mouse chromosome 2, in a region syntenic to human chromosome 5, and immunocytochemistry showed strong labeling in the ganglion cell and inner nuclear layers of the mouse retina. Comparison of the developmental time course of Cx36 expression in mouse retina with the genesis of the various classes of retinal cells suggests that the expression of Cx36 occurs primarily after cellular differentiation is complete. Because photic stimulation can affect the gap-junctional coupling between retinal neurons, we determined whether lighting conditions might influence the steady state levels of Cx36 transcript in the mouse retina. Steady-state levels of Cx36 transcript were significantly higher in animals reared under typical cyclic-light conditions; exposure either to constant darkness or to continuous illumination reduced the steady-state level of mRNA approximately 40%. Injection of Cx36 cRNA into pairs of Xenopus oocytes induced intercellular conductances that were relatively insensitive to transjunctional voltage, a property shared with other members of the gamma subclass of connexins. Like skate Cx35, mouse Cx36 was unable to form heterotypic gap-junctional channels when paired with two other rodent connexins. In addition, mouse Cx36 failed to form voltage-activated hemichannels, whereas both skate and perch Cx35 displayed quinine-sensitive hemichannel activity. The conservation of intercellular channel gating contrasts with the failure of Cx36 to make hemichannels, suggesting that the voltage-gating mechanisms of hemichannels may be distinct from those of intact intercellular channels.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.