Date of Graduation


Document Type

Thesis (MS)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Masters of Science (MS)

Advisor/Committee Chair

John O’Brien, PhD

Committee Member

Joseph L. Alcorn, PhD

Committee Member

Steve Massey, PhD

Committee Member

Christophe P. Ribelayga, PhD

Committee Member

Eric C. Swindell, PhD


Electrical synapses formed of the gap junction protein Cx36 show a great deal of functional plasticity, much dependent on changes in phosphorylation state of the connexin. However, gap junction turnover may also be important for regulating cell-cell communication, and turnover rates of Cx36 have not been studied. Connexins have relatively fast turnover rates, with short half-lives measured to be 1.5 to 3.5 hours in pulse-chase analyses of connexins (Cx26 and Cx43) in tissue culture cells and whole organs. We utilized HaloTag technology to study the turnover rate of Cx36 in transiently transfected HeLa cells. The HaloTag protein forms irreversible covalent bonds with chloroalkane ligands, allowing pulse-chase experiments to be performed very specifically. The HaloTag open reading frame was inserted into an internal site in the C-terminus of Cx36 designed not to disrupt the regulatory phosphorylation sites and not to block the C-terminal PDZ interaction motif. Functional properties of Cx36-Halo were assessed by Neurobiotin tracer coupling, live cell imaging, and immunostaining. For the pulse-chase study, transiently transfected HeLa cells were pulse labeled with Oregon Green (OG) HaloTag ligand and chase labeled at various times with tetramethylrhodamine (TMR) HaloTag ligand. Cx36-Halo formed large junctional plaques at sites of contact between transfected HeLa cells and was also contained in a large number of intracellular vesicles. The Cx36-Halo transfected HeLa cells supported Neurobiotin tracer coupling that was regulated by activation and inhibition of PKA in the same manner as wild-type Cx36 transfected cells. In the pulse-chase study, junctional protein labeled with the pulse ligand (OG) was gradually replaced by newly synthesized Cx36 labeled with the chase ligand (TMR). The half-life for turnover of protein in junctional plaques was 2.8 hours. Treatment of the pulse-labeled cells with Brefeldin A (BFA) prevented the addition of new connexins to junctional plaques, suggesting that the assembly of Cx36 into gap junctions involves the traditional ER-Golgi-TGN-plasma membrane pathway. In conclusion, Cx36-Halo is functional and has a turnover rate in HeLa cells similar to that of other connexins that have been studied. This turnover rate is likely too slow to contribute substantially to short-term changes in coupling of neurons driven by transmitters such as dopamine, which take minutes to achieve. However, turnover may contribute to longer-term changes in coupling.


turnover rate, connexin, electrical synapses, plasticity, Golgi apparatus, gap junction, HaloTag, pulse-chase, fluorescent labeling



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