Gap junctions between astrocytes support a functional syncytium that is thought to play an important role in neural homeostasis. In order to investigate regulation of this syncytium and of connexin43 (Cx43), a principal astrocytic gap junction protein, we determined the sequelae of gap junction and Cx43 disposition in a rat cerebral focal ischaemia model with various ischaemia/reperfusion times using sequence-specific anti-Cx43 antibodies (designated 13-8300, 18A, 16A and 71-0700) that exhibit differential recognition of Cx43, perhaps reflecting functional aspects of gap junctions. Antibody 13-8300 specifically detects only an unphosphorylated form of Cx43 in both Western blots and tissue sections. In hypothalamus after brief (15 min) ischaemic injury, Cx43 at intact gap junctions undergoes dephosphorylation, accompanied by reduced epitope recognition by antibodies 16A and 71-0700. Tissue examined 24 h after reperfusion showed that these effects were reversible. Astrocytic gap junction internalization occurring 1 h after ischaemia was accompanied by decreased immunodetection with 13-8300. At this time, gap junctions were absent in the ischaemic core, coinciding with a loss of Cx43 recognition with 18A and 13-8300, but elevated labelling of internalized Cx43 with 16A and 71-0700. Unphosphorylated Cx43 persisted at intact gap junctions confined to a thin corridor at the ischaemic penumbra which contained presumptive apoptotic cell profiles. Similar results were obtained in ischaemic striatum and cerebral cortex, though with a delayed time course that depended on the severity of the ischaemic insult. These results demonstrate that astrocytic Cx43 epitope masking, dephosphorylation and cellular redistribution occur after ischaemic brain injury, proceed as a temporally and spatially ordered sequence of events and culminate in differential patterns of Cx43 modification and sequestration at the lesion centre and periphery. These observations suggest an attempt by astrocytes in the vicinity of injury to remodel the junctional syncytium according to altered tissue homeostatic requirements.