Ca2+ responses in enteric glia are mediated by connexin-43 hemichannels and modulate colonic transit in mice

Gastroenterology. 2014 Feb;146(2):497-507.e1. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2013.10.061. Epub 2013 Nov 6.


Background & aims: In the enteric nervous system, neurotransmitters initiate changes in calcium (Ca(2+) responses) in glia, but it is not clear how this process affects intestinal function. We investigated whether Ca(2+)-mediated responses in enteric glia are required to maintain gastrointestinal function.

Methods: We used in situ Ca(2+) imaging to monitor glial Ca(2+) responses, which were manipulated with pharmacologic agents or via glia-specific disruption of the gene encoding connexin-43 (Cx43) (hGFAP::CreER(T2+/-)/Cx43(f/f) mice). Gastrointestinal function was assessed based on pellet output, total gut transit, colonic bead expulsion, and muscle tension recordings. Proteins were localized and quantified by immunohistochemistry, immunoblot, and reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction analyses.

Results: Ca(2+) responses in enteric glia of mice were mediated by Cx43 hemichannels. Cx43 immunoreactivity was confined to enteric glia within the myenteric plexus of the mouse colon; the Cx43 inhibitors carbenoxolone and 43Gap26 inhibited the ability of enteric glia to propagate Ca(2+) responses. In vivo attenuation of Ca(2+) responses in the enteric glial network slowed gut transit overall and delayed colonic transit--these changes are also observed during normal aging. Altered motility with increasing age was associated with reduced glial Ca(2+)-mediated responses and changes in glial expression of Cx43 messenger RNA and protein.

Conclusions: Ca(2+)-mediated responses in enteric glia regulate gastrointestinal function in mice. Altered intercellular signaling between enteric glia and neurons might contribute to motility disorders.

Keywords: ADP; ATP; Aging; CBX; Ca(2+); Cx43; EG; ENS; ER(T2); GFAP; Intestinal Nervous System; Mouse Model; Purines; adenosine diphosphate; adenosine triphosphate; calcium; carbenoxolone; connexin-43; enteric glia; enteric nervous system; glial fibrillary acidic protein; i-cKO; inducible and conditional knockout; mRNA; messenger RNA; moa; months of age; mutated estrogen receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Blotting, Western
  • Calcium Channels / metabolism*
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology*
  • Colon / physiology*
  • Connexin 43 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Connexin 43 / deficiency
  • Connexin 43 / genetics
  • Connexin 43 / metabolism*
  • Enteric Nervous System / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Transit / physiology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neuroglia / metabolism*
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • Biomarkers
  • Calcium Channels
  • Connexin 43
  • GJA1 protein, mouse