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J. Cell Sci. 117 (7): 1211-1220


Research Article

Epidermal growth factor regulates ubiquitination, internalization and proteasome-dependent degradation of connexin43

Edward Leithe*, and Edgar Rivedal

Institute for Cancer Research at The Norwegian Radium Hospital, N-0310 Oslo, Norway

* Author for correspondence (e-mail: eleithe{at}klinmed.uio.no)

Accepted for publication 27 October 2003.

Abstract: Connexins are membrane-spanning proteins that form gap junction channels between adjacent cells. Connexin43 (Cx43), the most widely expressed member of the connexin family in tissues and cell lines, has a rapid turnover rate and its degradation involves both the lysosomal and ubiquitin-proteasome pathway. It was previously shown that the proteasome is involved in regulating the number of functional gap junctions at the plasma membrane. However, little is known about how proteasome-dependent turnover of Cx43 is controlled. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) induces hyperphosphorylation of Cx43 and a rapid, transient decrease in gap junctional intercellular communication. In this study, we show that, along with inhibition of gap junctional intercellular communication, EGF induces disorganization, internalization and degradation of Cx43 gap junction plaques in IAR20 rat liver epithelial cells. These EGF-induced modifications of Cx43 were counteracted by the MEK1 inhibitor PD98059, indicating that the effects were mediated by the mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway. The EGF-induced destruction of Cx43 was proteasome-dependent, because the loss of Cx43 protein was counteracted by the proteasome inhibitor MG132 but not the lysosomal inhibitor leupeptin. Furthermore, EGF induced ubiquitination of Cx43, which was associated with the Cx43 hyperphosphorylation. The EGF-induced Cx43 ubiquitination was counteracted by PD98059. The EGF-induced internalization of Cx43 was blocked by hypertonic sucrose treatment, indicating that EGF mediates internalization of Cx43 via a clathrin-dependent mechanism. Our results indicate that ubiquitination of Cx43 occurs at the plasma membrane before Cx43 internalization. Taken together, these data provide the first evidence that EGF-induced phosphorylation of Cx43 induces binding of ubiquitin and targets Cx43 for internalization and degradation in a proteasome-dependent manner.

Key Words: Connexin43 • Epidermal growth factor • Mitogen-activated protein kinase • Ubiquitin • Proteasome

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