Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common form of sustained cardiac arrhythmia worldwide. Here, we investigate the molecular and cellular mechanisms of lone AF-linked germline mutations in the connexin40 (Cx40) gene, GJA5. The entire coding region of GJA5 was sequenced in 68 unrelated patients with lone AF. A novel germline heterozygous missense mutation in Cx40 (p.I75F) was identified in one index patient. The mutation was also present in the proband's father with lone AF but was not found in the unaffected family members who were examined and 200 unrelated healthy control individuals. Electrophysiological studies revealed no electrical coupling of the cell pairs expressing the mutant alone and a significant reduction in gap junction coupling conductance when the mutant was coexpressed with wild-type (wt) Cx40 or Cx43. Interestingly, another lone AF-linked Cx40 mutant p.L229M did not show any apparent coupling defect when expressed alone or together with wt Cx40 but specifically reduced the gap junction coupling when coexpressed with wt Cx43. This study is the first to demonstrate that the germline familial mutations in Cx40 impair the gap junctions through different mechanisms, which may predispose the mutant carriers to AF.
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