Denervation of skeletal muscles induces atrophy, preceded by changes in sarcolemma permeability of causes not yet completely understood. Here, we show that denervation-induced Evans blue dye uptake in vivo of fast, but not slow, myofibers was acutely inhibited by connexin (Cx) hemichannel/pannexin1 (Panx1) channel and purinergic ionotropic P2X7 receptor (P2X7R) blockers. Denervated myofibers showed up-regulation of Panx1 and de novo expression of Cx39, Cx43, and Cx45 hemichannels as well as P2X7Rs and transient receptor potential subfamily V, member 2, channels, all of which are permeable to small molecules. The sarcolemma of freshly isolated WT myofibers from denervated muscles also showed high hemichannel-mediated permeability that was slightly reduced by blockade of Panx1 channels or the lack of Panx1 expression, but was completely inhibited by Cx hemichannel or P2X7R blockers, as well as by degradation of extracellular ATP. However, inhibition of transient receptor potential subfamily V, member 2, channels had no significant effect on membrane permeability. Moreover, activation of the transcription factor NFκB and higher mRNA levels of proinflammatory cytokines (TNF-α and IL-1β) were found in denervated WT but not Cx43/Cx45-deficient muscles. The atrophy observed after 7 d of denervation was drastically reduced in Cx43/Cx45-deficient but not Panx1-deficient muscles. Therefore, expression of Cx hemichannels and P2X7R promotes a feed-forward mechanism activated by extracellular ATP, most likely released through hemichannels, that activates the inflammasome. Consequently, Cx hemichannels are potential targets for new therapeutic agents to prevent or reduce muscle atrophy induced by denervation of diverse etiologies.
Keywords: connexons; inflammation; membrane leakage; phosphorylated p65; purinergic receptors.