It has been found that gap junction-associated intracellular Ca 2+ [Ca 2+] i disturbance contributes to the arrhythmogenesis and hyperconstriction in diseased heart. However, whether functional gaps are also involved in the regulation of normal Ca 2+ signaling, in particular the basal [Ca 2+] i activities, is unclear.
Global and local Ca 2+ signaling and gap permeability were monitored in cultured neonatal rat ventricular myocytes (NRVMs) and freshly isolated mouse ventricular myocytes by Fluo4/AM and Lucifer yellow (LY), respectively. The results showed that inhibition of gap communication by heptanol, Gap 27 and flufenamic acid or interference of connexin 43 (Cx43) with siRNA led to a significant suppression of LY uptake and, importantly, attenuations of global Ca 2+ transients and local Ca 2+ sparks in monolayer NRVMs and Ca 2+ sparks in adult ventricular myocytes. In contrast, overexpression of rat-Cx43 in NRVMs induced enhancements in the above measurements, and so did in HEK293 cells expressing rat Cx43. Additionally, membrane-permeable inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP 3 butyryloxymethyl ester) and phenylephrine, an agonist of adrenergic receptor, could relieve the inhibited Ca 2+ signal and LY uptake by gap uncouplers, whereas blockade of IP 3 receptor with xestospongin C or 2-aminoethoxydiphenylborate mimicked the effects of gap inhibitors. More importantly, all these gap-associated effects on Ca 2+ signaling were also found in single NRVMs that only have hemichannels instead of gap junctions. Further immunostaining/immunoblotting single myocytes with antibody against Cx43 demonstrated apparent increases in membrane labeling of Cx43 and non-junctional Cx43 in overexpressed cells, suggesting functional hemichannels exist and also contribute to the Ca 2+ signaling regulation in cardiomyocytes.
These data demonstrate that Cx43-associated gap coupling plays a role in the regulation of resting Ca 2+ signaling in normal ventricular myocytes, in which IP 3/IP 3 receptor coupling is involved. This finding may provide a novel regulatory pathway for mediation of spontaneous global and local Ca 2+ activities in cardiomyocytes.