The cells of the lens are joined by an extensive network of gap junction intercellular channels consisting of connexins 43, 46, and 50. We have proposed, and experimentally supported, the hypothesis that fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signaling is required for upregulation of gap junction-mediated intercellular coupling (GJIC) at the lens equator. The ability of FGF to increase GJIC in cultured lens cells requires sustained activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK). In other cell types, activation of ERK has been shown to block GJIC mediated by connexin43 (Cx43). Why ERK signaling does not block lens cell coupling is not known. Another unresolved issue in lens gap junction regulation is how connexins, synthesized before the loss of biosynthetic organelles in mature lens fiber cells, avoid degradation during formation of the organelle-free zone. We have addressed these questions using serum-free cultures (termed DCDMLs) of primary embryonic chick lens epithelial cells. We show that FGF stimulates ERK in DCDMLs via the canonical Ras/Raf1 pathway, and that the reason that neither basal nor growth factor-stimulated GJIC is blocked by activation of ERK is because it is not mediated by Cx43. In fibroblastic cells, the normally rapid rate of degradation of Cx43 after its transport to the plasma membrane is reduced by treatments that either directly (ALLN; epoxomicin) or indirectly (generation of oxidatively un/mis-folded proteins by arsenic compounds) prevent the ubiquitin/proteasome system (UPS) from acting on its normal substrates. We show here that Cx45.6 and Cx56, the chick orthologs of mammalian Cx50 and Cx46, behave similarly in DCDMLs. When organelles lyse during the maturation of fiber cells, they release into the cytosol a large amount of new proteins that have the potential to saturate the capacity, and/or compromise the function, of the UPS. This would serve to spare gap junctions from degradation during formation of the organelle-free zone, thereby preserving GJIC between mature fiber cells despite the lack of de novo connexin synthesis.
- gap junctions
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sensory Systems
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience