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J Anat. Oct 1997; 191(Pt 3): 355–365.
PMCID: PMC1467693

Modulation of dye-coupling and proliferation in cultured rat thymic epithelium by factors involved in thymulin secretion


Cultures of rat thymic epithelium were used to measure the effect of thymulin secretagogues on dye-coupling and proliferation. Dye-coupling was assessed after the injection of lucifer yellow dextran which cannot permeate the connexin pore of gap junctions and the smaller, permeant cascade blue. In addition to gap junctional communication, larger intercellular bridges were demonstrated by the transfer of lucifer yellow dextran between cells. The extent of intercellular communication was found to be influenced by both cell density and the number of passages. In control cultures, intercellular communication was reduced in cell groups of low (<20 cells/group) or high cell densities (>100 cells/group) compared with groups of 20–60 cells. The highest coupling indices were found in subcultures 20–30. Taking these factors into account, significant decreases in coupling index were observed after pretreatment of test cultures with factors known to influence the secretion of thymulin (5 U/ml interleukin 1 (α and β), 1 μ M progesterone, 1 μ M oestrogen, 1 μ M testosterone, 1 ng/ml adrenocorticotropic hormone, 100 nm rat growth hormone) but 7.5 ng/ml thymulin had no effect on dye-coupling. The nonspecific gap junction uncoupler, octanol, abolished dye-coupling. Cellular proliferation, as measured by the uptake of tritiated thymidine, showed that the same factors that reduced coupling also increased proliferation. None of these factors affected the number of multinucleate cells present, except interleukin-1β which caused a significant reduction in the average number of nuclei per cell. Thus rat thymic epithelium in vitro provides a model for the study of the direct action of factors on cells of the thymic microenvironment.

Keywords: Gap junctions, intercellular bridges

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Selected References

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