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J Neurosci. 1998 Mar 1;18(5):1753-62.

Changes in the properties of gap junctions during neuronal differentiation of hippocampal progenitor cells.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York, 10461, USA.


The cellular mechanisms that regulate progenitor cell lineage elaboration and maturation during embryonic development of the mammalian brain are poorly understood. Conditionally immortalized mouse hippocampal multipotent progenitor cells (MK31 cells) were found to be strongly coupled by gap junctions comprising connexin 43 (Cx43) during early neuronal ontogeny; the presence of this Cx type was confirmed by electrophysiological, molecular biological, and immunocytochemical assays. However, as progenitor cells underwent intermediate stages of neuronal differentiation under the influence of interleukin 7 (IL-7) alone or terminal differentiation after composite exposure to basic fibroblast growth factor, IL-7, and transforming growth factor alpha, coupling strength and the level of Cx43 expression declined. An additional population of junctional channels with distinct properties was detected at an intermediate stage of neuronal differentiation. Reverse transcription-PCR assays detected mRNA encoding Cx40 in IL-7-treated cells and Cx33 after both treatment conditions. Because functional channels in exogenous expression systems are not formed by pairing Cx40 with Cx43 or by pairing Cx33 with itself or additional connexins, these experimental observations raise the possibility that the progressive loss of coupling during differentiation of neural progenitor cells may involve downregulation of Cx43 coupled with potentiation of expression of Cx33 and Cx40. Furthermore, continued expression of Cx43 in differentiating neuroblasts could mediate intercellular communication between neuronal precursor cells and astrocytes by direct signaling via homotypic gap junction channels.

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