Gap junction channels, which are made of connexins, are critical for intercellular communication, a function that may be disrupted in a variety of diseases. We studied the consequences of two cataract-associated mutations at adjacent positions at the first extracellular boundary in human connexin50 (Cx50), W45S and G46V. Both of these mutants formed gap junctional plaques when they were expressed in HeLa cells, suggesting that they trafficked to the plasma membrane properly. However, their functional properties differed. Dual two-microelectrode voltage-clamp studies showed that W45S did not form functional intercellular channels in paired Xenopus oocytes or hemichannel currents in single oocytes. When W45S was coexpressed with wild-type Cx50, the mutant acted as a dominant negative inhibitor of wild-type function. In contrast, G46V formed both functional gap junctional channels and hemichannels. G46V exhibited greatly enhanced currents compared with wild-type Cx50 in the presence of physiological calcium concentrations. This increase in hemichannel activity persisted when G46V was coexpressed with wild-type lens connexins, consistent with a dominant gain of hemichannel function for G46V. These data suggest that although these two mutations are in adjacent amino acids, they have very different effects on connexin function and cause disease by different mechanisms: W45S inhibits gap junctional channel function; G46V reduces cell viability by forming open hemichannels
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