In the mouse genome, 20 connexin genes have been detected that code for proteins of high sequence identity in the two extracellular loops, especially six conserved cysteine residues. The mouse connexin23 (Cx23) gene (Gje1) differs from all other connexin genes in vertebrates, since it codes for a protein that contains only 4 instead of 6 cysteine residues in the extracellular loops. Recently, two zebrafish connexin genes (Cx23a and Cx23b) have been identified, and a mouse mutant in the Gje1 gene has been described that exhibits a developmental defect in the lens. Here, we have compared the Cx23 gene in different mammalian species and found no transcripts in cDNA libraries of primates. Furthermore, all primate genomes analyzed contain stop codons in the Cx23 sequence, indicating inactivation of the orthologous primate GJE1 gene. No Cx23 mRNA was found in human eye. In order to analyze the properties of mouse Cx23 channels, we isolated HeLa cell clones stably expressing wild-type mCx23 or mCx23 fused to eGFP. Cells expressing Cx23-eGFP demonstrated its insertion in the plasma membrane but no punctate staining in contacting membranes characteristic for junctional plaques. In addition, we tested whether Cx23 forms functional gap junction channels electrophysiologically in cell pairs as well as by microinjection of neurobiotin and found that mouse Cx23 did not form gap junction channels in HeLa cells. However, there was a significant release of ATP from different Cx23 HeLa cell clones, even in the presence of normal culture medium with high calcium ion concentration, suggesting a hemichannel-based function of Cx23. Therefore, Cx23 seems to share functional properties with pannexin (hemi) channels rather than gap junction channels of other connexins.