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Abstract

In the present study, we determined in detail the changes of liver gap junctions, connexin 26 (Cx26), and connexin 32 (Cx32), during DNA synthesis and redifferentiation of hepatocytes in vitro. We used primary rat hepatocytes that expressed the liver gap junction proteins, which were cultured in the medium containing epidermal growth factor (EGF) with 2% dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) and 10-7 mol/L glucagon (a DMSO culture system), as we previously reported. In the present cultures, almost confluent hepatocytes cultured in the medium containing EGF with 2% DMSO and 10-7 mol/L glucagon, underwent a nearly synchronous wave of DNA synthesis induced by the removal of 2% DMSO and 10-7 mol/L glucagon, and the addition of 10 mmol/L nicotinamide, after which the DNA synthesis was completely re-inhibited by the re-addition of 2% DMSO and 10-7 mol/L glucagon. During stimulation of DNA synthesis, both Cx26 and Cx32 messenger RNA (mRNAs) in hepatocytes transiently increased in the G1 phase and then markedly decreased before the onset of the S phase, while only Cx26 messenger RNA (mRNA) increased slightly in the S/M phase. Furthermore, before the onset of the S phase, a disappearance of both Cx26 and Cx32 immunoreactivities and gap junction plaques were observed. Gap junctional intercellular communication (GJIC), as measured by lucifer yellow, which indicated the function of Cx32, decreased markedly from before the onset of the S phase. GJIC measured by propidium iodide, which indicated the function of Cx26, decreased from before the onset of the S phase and then increased slightly in the S/M phase. During the re-inhibition after the stimulation of DNA synthesis, Cx32 mRNA, but not Cx26 mRNA, rapidly returned to the pretreatment control level. Cx32 immunoreactivity and gap junction plaques also recovered. However, the recovery of GJIC measured by lucifer yellow was later than that of Cx32 expression. These results indicated the different changes of expression and function of Cx26 and Cx32 in the hepatocytes during stimulation and re-inhibition of DNA synthesis. This culture system should be useful as a model in which to study liver gap junctions during hepatocyte growth and differentiation in vitro.