Gap junctions contain numerous channels that are clustered in apposed membrane patches of adjacent cells. These cell-to-cell channels are formed by pairing of two hemichannels or connexons, and are also referred to as connexon pairs. We have investigated various detergents for their ability to separately solubilize hemichannels or connexon pairs from isolated ovine lens fiber membranes. The solubilized preparations were reconstituted with lipids with the aim to reassemble native-type gap junctions and to provide a model system for the characterization of the molecular interactions involved in this process. While small gap junction structures were obtained under a variety of conditions, large native-type gap junctions were assembled using a novel two-step procedure: in the first step, hemichannels that had been solubilized with octylpolyoxyethylene formed connexon pairs by dialysis against n-decyl-beta-D-maltopyranoside. In the second step, connexon pairs were reconstituted with phosphatidylcholines by dialysis against buffer containing Mg2+. This way, double-layered gap junctions with diameter < or = 300 nm were obtained. Up to several hundred channels were packed in a noncrystalline arrangement, giving these reconstituted gap junctions an appearance that was indistinguishable from that of the gap junctions in the lens fiber membranes.

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