Gap junctions are specialized membrane structures that enable the intercytoplasmic exchange of small molecules and ions between contacting cells. During the past decade, biophysical and structural analyses of the junctional channel have considerably increased our understanding of the pharmacological properties and gating mechanisms of gap junctions. Despite this impressive amount of work, until recently the physiological role of these ubiquitous intercellular pathways has remained speculative in most tissues. This review summarizes the most recent information obtained on the structure of the gap junction by molecular cloning of the major protein components and emphasizes the growing evidence for their functional role in adult tissues formed by highly differentiated secretory cells. The relevance of cell-to-cell coupling for the co-ordinated function of the exocrine and endocrine pancreas is discussed.