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J Cell Sci. 2003 Aug 15;116(Pt 16):3315-25. Epub 2003 Jun 26.

Exocrine specific expression of Connexin32 is dependent on the basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor Mist1.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1392, USA.


Gap junctions are intercellular channels that provide direct passage of small molecules between adjacent cells. In pancreatic acini, the connexin26 (Cx26) and connexin32 (Cx32) proteins form functional channels that coordinate the secretion of digestive enzymes. Although the function of Cx26/Cx32 gap junctions are well characterized, the regulatory circuits that control the spatial and temporal expression patterns of these connexin genes are not known. In an effort to identify the molecular pathways that regulate connexin gene expression, we examined Cx26 and Cx32 gene activities in mice lacking the basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor Mist1 (Mist1KO). Mist1, Cx26 and Cx32 are co-expressed in most exocrine cell types, and acinar cells from Mist1KO mice exhibit a highly disorganized cellular architecture and an altered pattern of expression for several genes involved in regulated exocytosis. Analysis of Mist1KO mice revealed a dramatic decrease in both connexin proteins, albeit through different molecular mechanisms. Cx32 gene transcription was greatly reduced in all Mist1KO exocrine cells, while Cx26 gene expression remained unaffected. However, in the absence of Cx32 protein, Cx26 did not participate in gap junction formation, leading to a complete lack of intercellular communication among Mist1KO acinar cells. Additional studies testing Mist1 gene constructs in pancreatic exocrine cells confirmed that Mist1 transcriptionally regulates expression of the Cx32 gene. We conclude that Mist1 functions as a positive regulator of Cx32 gene expression and, in its absence, acinar cell gap junctions and intercellular communication pathways become disrupted.

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