Connexins, connexons, and intercellular communication

Annu Rev Biochem. 1996;65:475-502. doi: 10.1146/


Cells in tissues share ions, second messengers, and small metabolites through clusters of intercellular channels called gap junctions. This type of intercellular communication permits coordinated cellular activity. Intercellular channels are formed from two oligomeric integral membrane protein assemblies, called connexons, which span two adjacent cells' plasma membranes and join in a narrow, extracellular "gap." Connexons are formed from connexins, a highly related multigene family consisting of at least 13 members. Since the cloning of the first connexin in 1986, considerable progress has been made in our understanding of the complex molecular switches that control the formation and permeability of the intercellular channels. Analysis of the mechanisms of channel assembly has revealed the selectivity of inter-connexin interactions and uncovered novel characteristics of the channel permeability and gating behavior. Structure-function studies provide a molecular understanding of the significance of connexin diversity and demonstrate the unique regulation of connexins by tyrosine kinases and oncogenes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication*
  • Connexins / chemistry
  • Connexins / genetics
  • Connexins / metabolism*
  • Intracellular Membranes / metabolism
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Connexins