Gap junctions (GJs) are dynamic structures composed of hexamers of connexins (Cxs), a class of transmembrane proteins enabling channel-mediated direct intercellular communication through cell-cell diffusion of ions and small metabolites. In defined conditions, Cxs also work as hemichannels allowing exchanges between the cytoplasm and the extracellular medium. The most common GJ channel is formed by connexin 43 (Cx43) and plays an important role in physiological and pathological processes in excitable tissues, such as heart and brain. Hence, Cx43 has been largely envisioned as a new therapeutic target in cancer, neurological and psychiatric indications, or cardiovascular diseases. Identifying new pharmacological inhibitors of Cx43 GJs with different mechanisms of action and from diverse chemical classes is thus highly challenging. We present here a high-content screening method, based on the evaluation of fluorescent dye transfer rates between adjacent cells to monitor the function of GJs in U251 glioblastoma cells expressing high levels of Cx43. This assay was validated using well-described pharmacological GJ inhibitors such as mefloquine. The method was adapted to screen a library of 1,280 Food and Drug Administration- and European Medicines Agency-approved drugs that led to the selection of both known and new inhibitors of GJ channel function. We further focused on a specific class of microtubule-targeting agents, confirming that a proper tubulin network is required for functional Cx43 GJ channels.
Keywords: Cx43; connexin; cytoskeleton; gap junction; high-content screening.