Connexin (Cx) proteins form large conductance channels which function as regulators of communication between neighboring cells via gap junctions and/or hemichannels. Intercellular communication is essential to coordinate cellular responses in tissues and organs, thereby fulfilling an essential role in the spreading of signaling, survival and death processes. Connexin 43 (Cx43), a major connexin isoform in brain and heart, is rapidly turned over. Recent studies implicated that autophagy, a lysosomal degradation pathway induced upon nutrient starvation, mediates connexins, including Cx43, degradation. Here, we examined the impact of nutrient starvation on endogenous Cx43-protein levels and endogenous Cx43-driven intercellular communication in primary bovine corneal endothelial cells (BCECs). Hank’s Balanced Salt Solution (HBSS) was used as a starvation condition that induces autophagic flux without impacting the survival of the BCECs. Nutrient starvation of BCECs caused a rapid decline in Cx43-protein levels, both as gap junctions and as hemichannels. The time course of the decline in Cx43-protein levels coincided with the time course of the decline in intercellular communication, assessed as intercellular Ca2+-wave propagation in BCECs exposed to a single-cell mechanical stimulus. The decline in Cx43-protein levels, both as gap junctions and as hemichannels, could be prevented by the addition of bafilomycin A1, a lysosomal inhibitor, during the complete nutrient starvation period. Consistent with this, bafilomycin A1 significantly alleviated the decrease in intercellular Ca2+-wave propagation. This study further underpins the importance of autophagy as an important degradation pathway for Cx43 proteins during periods of nutrient deprivation, thereby impacting the ability of cells to perform intercellular communication.
The Journal of Membrane Biology – Springer Journals
Published: Feb 12, 2016
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