Potassium (K+) channels in the inner mitochondrial membrane influence cell function and survival. Increasing evidence indicates that multiple signaling pathways and pharmacological actions converge on mitochondrial ATP-sensitive K+ (mitoKATP) channels and PKC to confer cytoprotection against necrotic and apoptotic cell injury. However, the molecular structure of mitoKATP channels remains unresolved, and the mitochondrial phosphoprotein(s) that mediate cytoprotection by PKC remain to be determined. As mice deficient in the main sarcolemmal gap junction protein connexin 43 (Cx43) lack this cytoprotection, we set out to investigate a possible link among mitochondrial Cx43, mitoKATP channel function, and PKC activation. By patch-clamping the inner membrane of subsarcolemmal murine cardiac mitochondria, we found that genetic Cx43 deficiency, pharmacological connexin inhibition by carbenoxolone, and Cx43 blockade by the mimetic peptide 43GAP27 each substantially reduced diazoxide-mediated stimulation of mitoKATP channels. Suppression of mitochondrial Cx43 inhibited mitoKATP channel activation by PKC. MitoKATP channels of interfibrillar mitochondria, which do not contain any detectable Cx43, were insensitive to both PKC activation and diazoxide, further demonstrating the role of Cx43 in mitoKATP channel stimulation and the compartmentation of mitochondria in cell signaling. Our results define a role for mitochondrial Cx43 in protecting cardiac cells from death and provide a link between cytoprotective stimuli and mitoKATP channel opening, making Cx43 an attractive therapeutic target for protection against cell injury.


Dennis Rottlaender, Kerstin Boengler, Martin Wolny, Guido Michels, Jeannette Endres-Becker, Lukas J. Motloch, Astrid Schwaiger, Astrid Buechert, Rainer Schulz, Gerd Heusch, Uta C. Hoppe


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