Calcium and connexin-based intercellular communication, a deadly catch?

Elke Decrock, Mathieu Vinken, Melissa Bol, K D'herde, Vera Rogiers, Peter Vandenabeele, Dmitri Krysko, Geert Bultynck, L. Leybaert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


Ca2+ is known as a universal messenger mediating a wide variety of cellular processes,
including cell death. In fact, this ion has been proposed as the 'cell death master', not only at the
intracellular but also at the intercellular level. The most direct form of intercellular spread of cell death
is mediated by gap junction channels. These channels have been shown to propagate cell death as well
as cell survival signals between the cytoplasm of neighbouring cells, reflecting the dual role of Ca2+
signals i.e. cell death versus survival. Its precursor, the unopposed hemichannel (half of a gap junction
channel), has recently joined in as a toxic pore connecting the intracellular with the extracellular
environment and allowing the passage of a range of substances. The biochemical nature of the socalled
intercellular cell death molecule, transferred through gap junctions or released/taken up via
hemichannels, remains elusive but several studies pinpoint Ca2+ itself or its messenger inositol
trisphosphate as the responsible masters in crime. Although direct evidence is still lacking, indirect
data including Ca2+ involvement in intercellular communication and cell death, and effects of
intercellular communication on intracellular Ca2+ homeostasis, support this hypothesis. In addition,
hemichannels and their molecular building blocks, connexin or pannexin proteins, may exert their
effects on Ca2+-dependent cell death at the intracellular level, independently from their channel
functions. This review provides a cutting edge overview of the current knowledge and underscores the
intimate connection between intercellular communication, Ca2+ signalling and cell death.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-321
Number of pages12
JournalCell Calcium
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2011


  • connexin
  • pannexin
  • cell death


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