Retinal neurons are coupled via gap junctions, which function as electrical synapses that are gated by ambient light conditions. Gap junctions connecting either horizontal cells or AII amacrine cells are inhibited by the neurotransmitter dopamine, via the activation of the cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP)/protein kinase A (PKA) signaling pathway. Fish connexin35 (Cx35) and its mouse ortholog, Cx36, are good candidates to undergo dopaminergic modulation, because they have been detected in the inner plexiform layer of the retina, where Type II amacrine cells establish synaptic contacts. We have taken advantage of the ability of certain connexins to form functional connexons (hemi-channels), when expressed in Xenopus oocytes, to investigate whether pharmacological elevation of cAMP modulates voltage-activated hemi-channel currents in single oocytes. Injection of perch Cx35 RNA into Xenopus oocytes induced outward voltage-dependent currents that were recorded at positive membrane potentials. Incubation of oocytes with 8-bromoadenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (8-Br-cAMP), a membrane permeable cAMP analog, resulted in a dose-dependent and reversible inhibition of hemi-channel currents at the more positive voltage steps. In contrast, treatment with 8-Br-cAMP did not have any effect on hemi-channel currents induced by skate Cx35. Amino acid sequence comparison of the two fish connexins revealed, in the middle cytoplasmic loop of perch Cx35, the presence of a PKA consensus sequence that was absent in the skate connexin. The results obtained with two constructs in which the putative PKA phosphorylation site was either suppressed (perch Cx35R108Q) or introduced (skate Cx35Q108R) indicate that it is responsible for the inhibition of hemi-channel currents. These studies demonstrate that perch Cx35 is a target of the cAMP/PKA signaling pathway and identify a consensus PKA phosphorylation site that is required for channel gating.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.