Cell culture studies have revealed that metabolic functions of the adult hepatocyte are related to cell density. Development of the glycogenic response to insulin under glucocorticoid control was investigated in 15- and 18-day-old fetal rat hepatocytes plated at different cell densities. After culturing for 48 hours with glucocorticoids, the stimulatory effect of insulin on [14C]glucose incorporation into glycogen after 3 hours progressed from weak response (less than 1.4-fold) in sparse cultures to a maximal response in dense ones (3.0- to 4.5-fold), depending on the fetal stage. The response was always no more than 2.0-fold in the absence of glucocorticoids, even with dense cultures. Such a dual regulation pattern was not found for the glycogenolytic effect of glucagon similarly expressed regardless of culture conditions. When cells were clustered in limited circular regions of the dish, the insulin response was higher than for sparse cultures for a similar number of cells per culture. Using the scrape-loading technique with Lucifer Yellow CH, a positive dye transfer was obtained in clustered cultures providing that they were grown in the presence of glucocorticoids; insulin as well as glucagon stimulated twofold intercellular communication. Connexin32 (Cx32) and connexin26 (Cx26) protein levels were assayed by Western immunoblotting and developed according to age and exposure to glucocorticoids. Thus, glucocorticoids through development of gap junctions enabled establishment of intercellular communication that could be stimulated by insulin and glucagon in cultured fetal hepatocytes. Gap junction functioning and the biologic effect of insulin correlated closely