Gap junctions are intercellular conduits for small molecules made up by protein subunits called connexins. A large number of connexin genes were found in mouse and man, and most cell types express several connexins, lending support to the view that redundancy and compensation among family members exist. This review gives an overview of the current knowledge on redundancy and functional compensation - or lack thereof. It takes into account the different properties of connexin subunits which comprise gap junctional intercellular channels, but also the compatibility of connexins in gap junctions. Most insight has been gained by the investigation of mice deficient for one or more connexins and transgenic mice with functional replacement of one connexin gene by another. Most single deficient mice show phenotypical alterations limited to critical developmental time points or to specific organs and tissues, while mice doubly deficient for connexins expressed in the same cell type usually show more severe phenotypical alterations. Replacement of a connexin by another connexin in some cases gave rise to rescue of phenotypical alterations of connexin deficiencies, which were restricted to specific tissues. In many tissues, connexin substitution did not restore phenotypical alterations of connexin deficiencies, indicating that connexins are specialized in function. In some cases, fatal consequences arose from the replacement. The current consensus gained from such studies is that redundancy and compensation among connexins exists at least to a limited extent. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: The Communicating junctions, composition, structure and characteristics.
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