Functional connexin "hemichannels": a critical appraisal

Glia. 2006 Nov 15;54(7):758-73. doi: 10.1002/glia.20429.


"Hemichannels" are defined as the halves of gap junction channels (also termed connexons) that are contributed by one cell; "hemichannels" are considered to be functional if they are open in nonjunctional membranes in the absence of pairing with partners from adjacent cells. Several recent reviews have summarized the blossoming literature regarding functional "hemichannels", in some cases encyclopedically. However, most of these previous reviews have been written with the assumption that all data reporting "hemichannel" involvement really have studied phenomena in which connexons actually form the permeability or conductance pathway. In this review, we have taken a slightly different approach. We review the concept of "hemichannels", summarize properties that might be expected of half gap junctions and evaluate the extent to which the properties of presumptive "hemichannels" match expectations. Then we consider functions attributed to hemichannels, provide an overview of other channel types that might fulfill similar roles and provide sets of criteria that might be applied to verify involvement of connexin hemichannels in cell and tissue function. One firm conclusion is reached. The study of hemichannels is technically challenging and fraught with opportunities for misinterpretation, so that future studies must apply rigorous standards for detection of hemichannel expression and function. At the same time there are reasons to expect surprises, including the possibility that some time honored techniques for studying gap junctions may prove unsuitable for detecting hemichannels. We advise hemichannel researchers to proceed with caution and an open mind.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / ultrastructure
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Connexins / metabolism*
  • Gap Junctions / metabolism*
  • Gap Junctions / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / metabolism*
  • Ion Channels / ultrastructure
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / ultrastructure
  • Receptors, Purinergic / metabolism
  • Second Messenger Systems / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Connexins
  • Ion Channels
  • Receptors, Purinergic