Multicellular organisms have developed a variety of mechanisms that allow communication between their cells. Whereas some of these systems, as neurotransmission or hormones, make possible communication between remote areas, direct cell-to-cell communication through specific membrane channels keep in contact neighboring cells. Direct communication between the cytoplasm of adjacent cells is achieved in vertebrates by membrane channels formed by connexins. However, in addition to allowing exchange of ions and small metabolites between the cytoplasms of adjacent cells, connexin channels also communicate the cytosol with the extracellular space, thus enabling a completely different communication system, involving activation of extracellular receptors. Recently, the demonstration of connexin at the inner mitochondrial membrane of cardiomyocytes, probably forming hemichannels, has enlarged the list of actions of connexins. Some of these mechanisms are also shared by a different family of proteins, termed pannexins. Importantly, these systems allow not only communication between healthy cells, but also play an important role during different types of injury. The aim of this review is to discuss the role played by both connexin hemichannels and pannexin channels in cell communication and injury. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: The Communicating junctions, composition, structure and characteristics. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.
- Gap junction