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J Cell Physiol. 2000 May;183(2):228-37.

Developmental expression and assembly of connexins into homomeric and heteromeric gap junction hemichannels in the mouse mammary gland.

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Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Institute of Cancer Research, London, United Kingdom.


During the development of the mammary gland, duct-lining epithelial cells progress through a program of expansive proliferation, followed by a terminal differentiation that allows for the biosynthesis and secretion of milk during lactation. The role of gap junction proteins, connexins, in the development and function of this secretory epithelium was investigated. Connexins, Cx26 and Cx32, were differentially expressed throughout pregnancy and lactation in alveolar cells. Cx26 poly-(A)(+) RNA and protein levels increased from early pregnancy, whereas Cx32 was detectable only during lactation. At this time, immunolocalization of connexins by confocal microscopy and immunogold labeling of high-pressure frozen freeze-substituted tissue showed that both connexins colocalized to the same junctional plaque. Analysis of gap junction hemichannels (connexons) isolated from lactating mammary gland plasma membranes by a rate-density centrifugation procedure, followed by immunoprecipitation and by size-exclusion chromatography, showed that Cx26 and Cx32 were organized as homomeric and heteromeric connexons. Structural diversity in the assembly of gap junction hemichannels demonstrated between pregnant and lactating mammary gland may account for differences in ionic and molecular signaling that may physiologically influence the onset and/or maintenance of the secretory phenotype of alveolar epithelial cells.

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