Gap junctional intercellular communication as a biological "Rosetta stone" in understanding, in a systems biological manner, stem cell behavior, mechanisms of epigenetic toxicology, chemoprevention and chemotherapy

J Membr Biol. 2007 Aug;218(1-3):93-100. doi: 10.1007/s00232-007-9072-6. Epub 2007 Oct 25.


In spite of the early speculation by Loewenstein that one of the critical distinguishing phenotypes of cancers from normal cells was the dysfunction of gap junctional intercellular communication (GJIC), this hypothesis has not captured the attention of most birth defects and cancer researchers. Moreover, even with later demonstrations that factors that influence normal development and carcinogenesis by modulating GJIC, such as chemical teratogens and tumor-promoting chemicals, inflammatory factors, hormones and growth factors, antisense connexin genes, knockout mouse models, human inherited mutated connexin genes, si-connexin RNA, chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic chemicals, it is rare that one sees any reference to these studies by the mainstream investigators in these fields. Based on the assumption that the evolutionarily conserved connexin genes found in metazoans are needed for normal development and the maintenance of health and T. Dobzhansky's statement "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution," a short review of the roles of endogenous and exogenous modulators of GJIC will be made in the context of the multistage, multimechanism process of carcinogenesis, the stem cell theory of carcinogenesis, the discovery and characterization of normal adult stem "cancer stem" cells and the observation that two distinct classes of GJIC-deficient cancer cells are known. The implications of these observations to a "systems biological" view of the role of gap junctions and the nutritional prevention and treatment of several chronic diseases and cancer will be discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Chemoprevention
  • Connexins / metabolism*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Gap Junctions / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Junctions*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Systems Biology
  • Toxicology


  • Connexins