Connexin-43 (Cx43) gap junctions provide intercellular coupling, which ensures rapid action potential propagation and synchronized heart contraction. Alterations in Cx43 localization and reductions in gap junction coupling occur in failing hearts, contributing to ventricular arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death. Recent reports have found that an internally translated Cx43 isoform, GJA1-20k, is an auxiliary subunit for the trafficking of Cx43 in heterologous expression systems. Here, we have created a mouse model by using CRISPR technology to mutate a single internal translation initiation site in Cx43 (M213L mutation), which generates full-length Cx43, but not GJA1-20k. We found that GJA1M213L/M213L mice had severely abnormal electrocardiograms despite preserved contractile function, reduced total Cx43, and reduced gap junctions, and they died suddenly at 2 to 4 weeks of age. Heterozygous GJA1M213L/WT mice survived to adulthood with increased ventricular ectopy. Biochemical experiments indicated that cytoplasmic Cx43 had a half-life that was 50% shorter than membrane-associated Cx43. Without GJA1-20k, poorly trafficked Cx43 was degraded. The data support that GJA1-20k, an endogenous entity translated independently of Cx43, is critical for Cx43 gap junction trafficking, maintenance of Cx43 protein, and normal electrical function of the mammalian heart.
Shaohua Xiao, Daisuke Shimura, Rachel Baum, Diana M. Hernandez, Sosse Agvanian, Yoshiko Nagaoka, Makoto Katsumata, Paul D. Lampe, Andre G. Kleber, TingTing Hong, Robin M. Shaw