Connexins are crucial cardiac proteins that form hemichannels and gap junctions. Gap junctions are responsible for the propagation of electrical and chemical signals between myocardial cells and cells of the specialized conduction system in order to synchronize the cardiac cycle and steer cardiac pump function. Gap junctions are normally open, while hemichannels are closed, but pathological circumstances may close gap junctions and open hemichannels, thereby perturbing cardiac function and homeostasis. Current evidence demonstrates an emerging role of hemichannels in myocardial ischemia and arrhythmia, and tools are now available to selectively inhibit hemichannels without inhibiting gap junctions as well as to stimulate hemichannel incorporation into gap junctions. We review available experimental evidence for hemichannel contributions to cellular pro-arrhythmic events in ventricular and atrial cardiomyocytes, and link these to insights at the level of molecular control of connexin-43–based hemichannel opening. We conclude that a double-edged approach of both preventing hemichannel opening and preserving gap junctional function will be key for further research and development of new connexin-based experimental approaches for treating heart disease.
Luc Leybaert, Maarten A.J. De Smet, Alessio Lissoni, Rosalie Allewaert, H. Llewelyn Roderick, Geert Bultynck, Mario Delmar, Karin R. Sipido, Katja Witschas