Gap junctions, composed of connexins, mediate electrical coupling and impulse propagation in the working myocardium. In the human heart, the spatio-temporal regulation and distinct functional properties of the three dominant connexins (Cx43, Cx45, and Cx40) suggests non-redundant physiological roles for each isoform. There are substantial differences in gating properties, expression, and trafficking among these isoforms, however, little is known about the determinants of these different phenotypes. To gain insight regarding these determinants, we focused on the carboxyl-terminal (CT) domain because of its importance in channel regulation and large degree of sequence divergence among connexin family members. Using in vitro biophysical experiments, we identified a structural feature unique to Cx45: high affinity (KD~100nM) dimerization between CT domains. In this study, we sought to determine if this dimerization occurs in cells and to identify the biological significance of the dimerization. Using a bimolecular fluorescence complementation assay, we demonstrate that the CT domains dimerize at the plasma membrane. By inhibiting CT dimerization with a mutant construct, we show that CT dimerization is necessary for proper Cx45 membrane localization, turnover, phosphorylation status, and binding to protein partners. Furthermore, CT dimerization is needed for normal intercellular communication and hemichannel activity. Altogether, our results demonstrate that CT dimerization is a structural feature important for correct Cx45 function. This study is significant because discovery of how interactions mediated by the CT domains can be modulated would open the door to strategies to ameliorate the pathological effects of altered connexin regulation in the failing heart.
Keywords: Carboxyl terminal domain; Connexin45; Dimerization; Gap junctions; Intercellular communication; Protein-protein interactions.
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