Connexons form the basis of hemichannels and gap junctions. They are composed of six tetraspan proteins called connexins. Connexons can function as individual hemichannels, releasing cytosolic factors (such as ATP) into the pericellular environment. Alternatively, two hemichannel connexons from neighbouring cells can come together to form gap junctions, membrane-spanning channels that facilitate cell-cell communication by enabling signalling molecules of approximately 1 kDa to pass from one cell to an adjacent cell. Connexins are expressed in joint tissues including bone, cartilage, skeletal muscle and the synovium. Indicative of their importance as gap junction components, connexins are also known as gap junction proteins, but individual connexin proteins are gaining recognition for their channel-independent roles, which include scaffolding and signalling functions. Considerable evidence indicates that connexons contribute to the function of bone and muscle, but less is known about the function of connexons in other joint tissues. However, the implication that connexins and gap junctional channels might be involved in joint disease, including age-related bone loss, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, emphasizes the need for further research into these areas and highlights the therapeutic potential of connexins.
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