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Front. Physiol. | doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00141

The role of connexin and pannexin channels in perinatal brain injury and inflammation

  • 1The University of Auckland, New Zealand

Perinatal brain injury remains a major cause of death and life-long disability. Perinatal brain injury is typically associated with hypoxia-ischemia and/or infection/inflammation. Both hypoxia-ischemia and infection trigger an inflammatory response in the brain. The inflammatory response can contribute to brain cell loss and chronic neuroinflammation leading to neurological impairments.
It is now well established that brain injury evolves over time, and shows a striking spread from injured to previously uninjured regions of the brain. There is increasing evidence that this spread is related to opening of connexin hemichannels and pannexin channels, both of which are large conductance membrane channels found in almost all cell types in the brain. Blocking connexin hemichannels within the first 3 hours after hypoxia-ischemia has been shown to improve outcomes in term equivalent fetal sheep but it is important to also understand the downstream pathways linking membrane channel opening with the development of injury in order to identify new therapeutic targets.
Open membrane channels release adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and other neuroactive molecules, into the extracellular space. ATP has an important physiological role, but has also been reported to act as a damage-associated molecular pattern (DAMP) signal mediated through specific purinergic receptors and so act as a primary signal 1 in the innate immune system inflammasome pathway. More crucially, extracellular ATP is a key inflammasome signal 2 activator, with purinergic receptor binding triggering the assembly of the multi-protein inflammasome complex. The inflammasome pathway and complex formation contribute to activation of inflammatory caspases, and the release of inflammatory cytokines, including interleukin (IL)-1β, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, IL-18 and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). We propose that the NOD-like receptor protein-3 (NLRP3) inflammasome, which has been linked to inflammatory responses in models of ischemic stroke and various inflammatory diseases, may be one mechanism by which connexin hemichannel opening especially mediates perinatal brain injury.

Keywords: connexin, pannexin, hemichannel, Ischemia, Inflammation, Inflammasome, ATP - adenosine triphosphate

Received: 12 Nov 2018; Accepted: 07 Feb 2019.

Edited by:

Mary Tolcos, RMIT University, Australia

Reviewed by:

Julie Wixey, University of Queensland, Australia
Meredith A. Kelleher, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Oregon Health & Science University, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Zhou, Green, Bennet, Gunn and Davidson. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Joanne O. Davidson, The University of Auckland, Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand,