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Keywords:

  • connexin;
  • zebrafish;
  • embryo;
  • gap junction;
  • lens

Abstract

The connexin family of genes codes for proteins that oligomerize into a connexon of six subunits to form one half of the gap junction channel. Gap junctions are plasma membrane structures that mediate intercellular communication by joining the cytoplasm of two cells, allowing the passage of small molecules and metabolites, and contributing significantly to the maintenance of tissue homeostasis. The signaling mediated by these junctions appears to be necessary for the correct timing of key developmental events. This communication is especially important in the avascular lens where the intercellular passage of metabolites, second messengers, and ions is necessary to maintain the correct ionic balance in the lens fibre cells, and prevent cataract formation. To characterize the role that the connexin genes play in development, a novel connexin was cloned from zebrafish. A genomic clone was isolated that contained a 1,173 base open reading frame. The nucleotide sequence in this open reading frame shows extensive sequence similarity to mouse connexin50 (Cx50), chicken Cx45.6, sheep Cx49, and human Cx50. The protein encoded by this open reading frame contains 391 amino acids, with a predicted molecular weight of 44.1 kDa and a typical connexin transmembrane topology. By using the LN54 radiation hybrid panel, the Cx44.1 gene was mapped to linkage group 1. Whole-mount in situ hybridization and Northern blot analyses were performed on zebrafish embryos at various developmental stages to characterize the developmental expression of the Cx44.1 message. The ocular lens was the only tissue in which Cx44.1 transcripts were detected. The transcripts were first detected in the lens around 24 hr post fertilization and remained detectable until 120 hr post fertilization. Electrophysiological analysis of Cx44.1 channels revealed gating properties that were virtually identical to the mouse and chicken orthologues of Cx44.1. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.