Gap junctions play a critical role in hearing and mutations in connexin genes cause a high incidence of human deafness. Pathogenesis mainly occurs in the cochlea, where gap junctions form extensive networks between non-sensory cells that can be divided into two independent gap junction systems, the epithelial cell gap junction system and the connective tissue cell gap junction system. At least four different connexins have been reported to be present in the mammalian inner ear, and gap junctions are thought to provide a route for recycling potassium ions that pass through the sensory cells during the mechanosensory transduction process back to the endolymph. Here we review the cochlear gap junction networks and their hypothesized role in potassium ion recycling mechanism, pharmacological and physiological gating of cochlear connexins, animal models harboring connexin mutations and functional studies of mutant channels that cause human deafness. These studies elucidate gap junction functions in the cochlea and also provide insight for understanding the pathogenesis of this common hereditary deafness induced by connexin mutations.
The Journal of Membrane Biology – Springer Journals
Published: May 17, 2006
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