Physiological Functions of Glial Cell Hemichannels

  • Juan A. OrellanaEmail author
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 949)


The brain performs exceptionally complex and dynamic tasks that depend on the coordinated interaction of neurons, glial cells, endothelial cells, pericytes, smooth muscle cells, ependymal cells, and circulating blood cells. Among these cells, glial cells have emerged as crucial protagonists in the regulation of synaptic transmission and neural function. Indeed, these cells express a wide range of receptors that enable them to sense changes in neuronal activity and the microenvironment by responding locally via the release of bioactive molecules known as gliotransmitters. In the central nervous system (CNS), a novel mechanism that allows gliotransmission via the opening of hemichannels has been proposed. These channels are composed of six protein subunits consisting of connexins or pannexins, which are two highly conserved protein families that are encoded by 21 and 3 genes, respectively, in humans. Typically, glial cell hemichannels exhibit low levels of activity, but this activity is sufficient to ensure the release of a broad spectrum of gliotransmitters, including ATP, D-serine, glutamate, adenosine, and glutathione. Here, we briefly review the current findings regarding the effects of the hemichannel-dependent release of gliotransmitters on the physiology of the CNS.


Connexins Pannexins (ATP) adenosine triphosphate Astroglial signaling Gliotransmitters 

Abbreviations and acronyms




Adenosine triphosphate


Basolateral amygdala


Intracellular free Ca2+ concentration


Cerebrospinal fluid


Central nervous system








Glial fibrillary acidic protein


Gap junction channels






Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide




Microtubule-associated protein 2


Mediobasal hypothalamus


Metabolic inhibition






Prostaglandin E2


Retrotrapezoid nucleus


Small interfering ribonucleic acid


Ventromedial hypothalamic nuclei


Ventral medullary surface


Transcranial direct current stimulation



This work was partially supported by the Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Científico y Tecnológico (FONDECYT) Grant 11121133 (to JAO), 1160710 (to JAO), the Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica (CONICYT) and Programa de Investigación Asociativa (PIA) Grant Anillo de Ciencia y Tecnología ACT1411 (to JAO). We apologize to the authors and groups whose work we did not cite due to space limitations.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de Neurología, Escuela de MedicinaPontificia Universidad Católica de ChileSantiagoChile

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