Gap junctions are composed of the connexins, a family of proteins which have been shown to be the structural and functional building blocks of gap junctional intercellular channels. In the chick lens, three members of the connexin (Cx) family have been characterized: Cx 43 has been shown to be a component of interepithelial cell gap junctions, and Cx 45.6 and Cx 56 have been shown to be part of fiber-to-fiber junctions. Early in chick development, gap junctional communication between differentiating lens fibers in the chick loses its sensitivity to blockade by elevated carbon dioxide (CO2). The lens epithelial cells, however, remain CO2-sensitive throughout development. A possible explanation for the change in CO2 sensitivity is that the lens fibers express differentiation-specific connexins with different physiological properties. Using specific antibodies for each of the three lens connexins, we show here that the lens fibers began to express Cx 45.6, and Cx 56 at the developmental stage when lens fibers acquired CO2-insensitivity. However, electron microscopic immunocytochemistry revealed that both Cx 45.6 and Cx 56 were found in interepithelial cell gap junctions, in addition to Cx 43. Conductances between paired Xenopus oocytes injected with Cx 43, Cx 45.6 and Cx 56 mRNAs revealed that all three connexins were CO2-sensitive in this expression system. Taken together, these data ruled out the possibility that the change in CO2 sensitivity observed in vivo could be explained on the basis of the distribution of connexins alone; other parameters of cellular context, such as post-translational processing, must be involved in the observed developmental changes in physiology.