Endocytic trafficking of connexins in cancer pathogenesis

Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis. 2023 Oct;1869(7):166812. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2023.166812. Epub 2023 Jul 16.


Gap junctions are specialized regions of the plasma membrane containing clusters of channels that provide for the diffusion of ions and small molecules between adjacent cells. A fundamental role of gap junctions is to coordinate the functions of cells in tissues. Cancer pathogenesis is usually associated with loss of intercellular communication mediated by gap junctions, which may affect tumor growth and the response to radio- and chemotherapy. Gap junction channels consist of integral membrane proteins termed connexins. In addition to their canonical roles in cell-cell communication, connexins modulate a range of signal transduction pathways via interactions with proteins such as β-catenin, c-Src, and PTEN. Consequently, connexins can regulate cellular processes such as cell growth, migration, and differentiation through both channel-dependent and independent mechanisms. Gap junctions are dynamic plasma membrane entities, and by modulating the rate at which connexins undergo endocytosis and sorting to lysosomes for degradation, cells can rapidly adjust the level of gap junctions in response to alterations in the intracellular or extracellular milieu. Current experimental evidence indicates that aberrant trafficking of connexins in the endocytic system is intrinsically involved in mediating the loss of gap junctions during carcinogenesis. This review highlights the role played by the endocytic system in controlling connexin degradation, and consequently gap junction levels, and discusses how dysregulation of these processes contributes to the loss of gap junctions during cancer development. We also discuss the therapeutic implications of aberrant endocytic trafficking of connexins in cancer cells.

Keywords: Cx43; NEDD4; cancer; connexin; gap junction; ubiquitin.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Connexin 43 / metabolism
  • Connexins* / metabolism
  • Gap Junctions / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / pathology


  • Connexins
  • Connexin 43