Introduction: The lung is a mechanically active system exposed to the external environment and is particularly sensitive to injury and inflammation. Studies have identified intercellular communication pathways that promote proper lung function in response to injury and disease. These pathways involve connexins (Cxs) and gap junctional intercellular communication (GJIC).
Areas covered in this review: The functional expression of Cxs in airway epithelium and vasculature, under normal and pathological conditions, is reviewed. Inhibition of GJIC and/or silencing of Cxs have been shown to modulate the course of disease development. Cx-based channels: i) coordinate ciliary beating and fluid transport to promote clearance of particulates, ii) regulate secretion of pulmonary surfactant, in response to deep inhalation by interconnecting type I and type II alveolar epithelial cells, and iii) are key mediators of pro- and anti-inflammatory signalling by the pulmonary endothelium, in order to modulate leukocyte recruitment from the circulation.
Expert opinion: Cx-based channels play several central roles in promoting a regulated inflammatory response and facilitating lung repair, thus enabling the pulmonary epithelium and vasculature to behave as integrated systems. Several pathologies can disrupt the normal communication pathways required for proper lung function, including acute lung injury, asthma, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis and cancer.