The delivery of glucose and antioxidants is vital to maintain homeostasis and lens transparency. Here, we report a new mechanism whereby mechanically activated connexin (Cx) hemichannels serve as a transport portal for delivering glucose and glutathione (GSH). Integrin α6β1 in outer cortical lens fiber activated by fluid flow shear stress (FFSS) induced opening of hemichannels. Inhibition of α6 activation prevented hemichannel opening as well as glucose and GSH uptake. The activation of integrin β1, a heterodimeric partner of α6 in the absence of FFSS, increased Cx50 hemichannel opening. Hemichannel activation by FFSS depended on the interaction of integrin α6 and Cx50 C-terminal domain. Moreover, hemichannels in nuclear fiber were unresponsive owing to Cx50 truncation. Taken together, these results show that mechanically activated α6β1 integrin in outer cortical lens fibers leads to opening of hemichannels, which transport glucose and GSH into cortical lens fibers. This study unveils a new transport mechanism that maintains metabolic and antioxidative function of the lens.

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