Gap junctional communication in morphogenesis

Prog Biophys Mol Biol. May-Jun 2007;94(1-2):186-206. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2007.03.005. Epub 2007 Mar 16.


Gap junctions permit the direct passage of small molecules from the cytosol of one cell to that of its neighbor, and thus form a system of cell-cell communication that exists alongside familiar secretion/receptor signaling. Because of the rich potential for regulation of junctional conductance, and directional and molecular gating (specificity), gap junctional communication (GJC) plays a crucial role in many aspects of normal tissue physiology. However, the most exciting role for GJC is in the regulation of information flow that takes place during embryonic development, regeneration, and tumor progression. The molecular mechanisms by which GJC establishes local and long-range instructive morphogenetic cues are just beginning to be understood. This review summarizes the current knowledge of the involvement of GJC in the patterning of both vertebrate and invertebrate systems and discusses in detail several morphogenetic systems in which the properties of this signaling have been molecularly characterized. One model consistent with existing data in the fields of vertebrate left-right patterning and anterior-posterior polarity in flatworm regeneration postulates electrophoretically guided movement of small molecule morphogens through long-range GJC paths. The discovery of mechanisms controlling embryonic and regenerative GJC-mediated signaling, and identification of the downstream targets of GJC-permeable molecules, represent exciting next areas of research in this fascinating field.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Connexins / metabolism*
  • Gap Junctions / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Morphogenesis / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Connexins