The functional diversity of gap junction intercellular channels arising from the large number of connexin isoforms is significantly increased by heterotypic interactions between members of this family. This is particularly evident in the rectifying behavior of Cx26/Cx32 heterotypic channels (Barrio et al., 1991. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 88:8410-8414). The channel properties responsible for producing the rectifying current observed for Cx26/Cx32 heterotypic gap junction channels were determined in transfected mouse neuroblastoma 2A (N2A) cells. Transfectants revealed maximum unitary conductances (γ(j)) of 135 pS for Cx26 and 53 pS for Cx32 homotypic channels in 120 mM KCl. Anionic substitution of glutamate for Cl indicated that Cx26 channels favored cations by 2.6:1, whereas Cx32 channels were relatively nonselective with respect to charge. In Cx26/Cx32 heterotypic cell pairs, the macroscopic fast rectification of the current-voltage relationship was fully explained at the single-channel level by a rectifying γ(j) that increased by a factor of 2.9 as the transjunctional voltage (V(j)) changed from -100 to + 100 mV with the Cx26 cell as the positive pole. A model of electrodiffusion of ions through the gap junction pore based on Nernst-Planck equations for ion concentrations and the Poisson equation for the electrical potential within the junction is developed. Selectivity characteristics are ascribed to each hemichannel based on either pore features (treated as uniform along the length of the hemichannel) or entrance effects unique to each connexin. Both analytical GHK approximations and full numerical solutions predict rectifying characteristics for Cx32/Cx26 heterotypic channels, although not to the full extent seen empirically. The model predicts that asymmetries in the conductance/permeability properties of the hemichannels (also cast as Donnan potentials) will produce either an accumulation or a depletion of ions within the channel, depending on voltage polarity, that will result in rectification.
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