The role of gap junction channels during physiologic and pathologic conditions of the human central nervous system

J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2012 Sep;7(3):499-518. doi: 10.1007/s11481-012-9352-5. Epub 2012 Mar 23.


Gap junctions (GJs) are expressed in most cell types of the nervous system, including neuronal stem cells, neurons, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, cells of the blood brain barrier (endothelial cells and astrocytes) and under inflammatory conditions in microglia/macrophages. GJs connect cells by the docking of two hemichannels, one from each cell with each hemichannel being formed by 6 proteins named connexins (Cx). Unapposed hemichannels (uHC) also can be open on the surface of the cells allowing the release of different intracellular factors to the extracellular space. GJs provide a mechanism of cell-to-cell communication between adjacent cells that enables the direct exchange of intracellular messengers, such as calcium, nucleotides, IP(3), and diverse metabolites, as well as electrical signals that ultimately coordinate tissue homeostasis, proliferation, differentiation, metabolism, cell survival and death. Despite their essential functions in physiological conditions, relatively little is known about the role of GJs and uHC in human diseases, especially within the nervous system. The focus of this review is to summarize recent findings related to the role of GJs and uHC in physiologic and pathologic conditions of the central nervous system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / pathology*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Gap Junctions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction / physiology