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Int J Dev Neurosci. 2002 Feb;20(1):63-75.

Expression and developmental regulation of gap junction connexins cx26, cx32, cx43 and cx45 in the rat midbrain-floor.

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Neuroanatomy and Interdisciplinary Center for Neurosciences (IZN), University of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 307, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany.


Connexins (cx) constitute a family of transmembrane proteins that form gap junction channels allowing metabolic and electrical coupling of cellular networks. Initial studies on the expression of cx in the developing brain have suggested that cx may undergo dynamic changes and may possibly be implicated in synchronizing development and differentiation of neural progenitor cells and young neurons. We have investigated expression of cx26, cx32, cx43, and cx45 in the midbrain floor, where nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons originate and differentiate. This neuron population is of major importance in regulating motor-functions. Semiquantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) revealed low levels of cx26-mRNA in the midbrain floor at E12, which gradually increased during pre- and postnatal development, reaching a maximum in the adult. Cx32-mRNA-levels reached a first peak at E16, and showed highest levels in adulthood. Cx43 was highly expressed at E12, decreased until E18, and subsequently increased again until adulthood. Cx45 mRNA was prominent at all developmental ages, but slightly decreased after the first postnatal week. Double-labeling for the dopaminergic neuronal marker tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), and cx-immunoreactivities (ir) evaluated by quantitative confocal laser microscopy revealed both distinct and similar developmental patterns for the individual cx investigated. Cx26 was highest at E14, decreased towards birth, and subsequently increased again reaching about 50% of the E14 level in the adult. Cx32-ir peaked at E16 and dropped to low levels after birth. Cx43-ir was highest at E12, decreased sharply at E14, reached its lowest levels at birth, but modestly increased again afterwards. Cx45-ir showed a biphasic pattern, with two prominent peaks at E12 and E18, followed by a massive postnatal decrease. Taken together, our results reveal that expression and ir of cx in the midbrain floor and dopaminergic neurons, respectively, follow cx-type specific patterns that temporally coincide with important steps of midbrain morphogenesis, as e.g. progenitor cell formation and migration (E12), early differentiation (E14-16), target encounter (E16-18) and postnatal functional maturation of the nigrostriatal system.

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