Endocytic processing of connexin43 gap junctions: a morphological study

Biochem J. 2006 Jan 1;393(Pt 1):59-67. doi: 10.1042/BJ20050674.


Gap junctions are plasma membrane areas enriched in channels that provide direct intercellular communication. Gap junctions have a high turnover rate; however, the mechanisms by which gap junctions are degraded are incompletely understood. In the present study, we show that in response to phorbol ester treatment, the gap junction channel protein Cx43 (connexin43) is redistributed from the plasma membrane to intracellular vesicles positive for markers for early and late endosomes and for the endolysosomal protease cathepsin D. Immunoelectron microscopy studies indicate that the double membranes of internalized gap junctions undergo separation and cutting, resulting in multivesicular endosomes enriched in Cx43 protein. Using preloading of BSA-gold conjugates to mark lysosomes, we provide evidence suggesting that the degradation process of the double-membrane structure of annular gap junctions occurs prior to transport of Cx43 to the lysosome. The results further suggest that bafilomycin A1, an inhibitor of vacuolar H+-ATPases, causes accumulation of Cx43 in early endosomes. Taken together, these findings indicate that internalized gap junctions undergo a maturation process from tightly sealed double-membrane vacuoles to connexin-enriched multivesicular endosomes with a single limiting membrane. The results further suggest that along with the processing of the double-membrane structure of annular gap junctions, connexins are trafficked via early and late endosomes, finally resulting in their endolysosomal degradation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Connexin 43 / metabolism*
  • Endocytosis*
  • Endosomes / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Gap Junctions / metabolism
  • Lysosomes / metabolism
  • Macrolides / pharmacology
  • Phorbol Esters
  • Protein Transport
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Transport Vesicles / metabolism


  • Connexin 43
  • Macrolides
  • Phorbol Esters
  • bafilomycin A
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases