Separate connexin domains partake in proposed gating mechanisms of gap junction channels. The amino-terminus (NT) domains, which contribute to voltage sensing, may line the channel's cytoplasmic-facing funnel surface, stabilize the channel's overall structure through interactions with the transmembrane domains and each other, and integrate to form a compound particle to gate the channel closed. Interactions of the carboxyl-terminus (CT) and cytoplasmic loop (CL) domains underlie voltage- and low pH-triggered channel closure. To elucidate potential cooperation of these gating mechanisms, we replaced the Cx43NT with the Cx37NT (chimera Cx43 NT37), leaving the remainder of the Cx43 sequence, including the CT and CL, unchanged. Compared to wild-type Cx43 (Cx43WT), Cx43 NT37 junctions exhibited several functional alterations: extreme resistance to halothane- and acidification-induced uncoupling, absence of voltage-dependent fast inactivation, longer channel open times, larger unitary channel conductances, low junctional dye permeability/permselectivity, and an overall cation selectivity more typical of Cx37WT than Cx43WT junctions. Together, these results suggest a cohesive model of channel function wherein: 1) channel conductance and size selectivity are largely determined by pore diameter, whereas charge selectivity results from the NT domains, and 2) transition between fully open and (multiple) closed states involves global changes in structure of the pore-forming domains transduced by interactions of the pore-forming domains with either the NT, CT, or both, with the NT domains forming the gate of the completely closed channel.
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