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Circ Res. 1997 Jan;80(1):88-94.

Dissociated spatial patterning of gap junctions and cell adhesion junctions during postnatal differentiation of ventricular myocardium.

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  • 1Laboratory of Eukaryotic Molecular Genetics, National Institute for Medical Research, London, England.


Nonuniformity in the spatial patterning of gap junctions between heart muscle cells is now recognized as an important determinant of electromechanical function in working myocardium. Breakdown of the normal geometry of electrical intercellular connectivity in diseased myocardium correlates with reentry, arrhythmia, and conduction disturbance. The developmental mechanism(s) that determines this precise spatial order in gap junction organization in normal myocardium is at present unknown. To examine this question, we have used immunoelectron and immunoconfocal microscopy to analyze the spatial distributions of gap junctional (connexin43), desmosomal (desmoplakin), and adherens junctional (N-cadherin) components during maturation of rodent and canine left ventricular myocardium. In rats, a striking divergence in the distribution of gap junctions and cell adhesion junctions emerged within the first 20 days of postnatal life. It was found that although gap junctions initially demonstrated dispersed distributions across myocyte cell membranes, desmosomes and adherens junctions showed more rapid polarization toward cell termini (ie, nascent intercalated disks) after birth. Over subsequent postnatal development (20 to 90 postnatal days), gap junctions became progressively concentrated in these cell adhesion junction-rich zones of membrane. Quantitative analyses of this process in a series of rats aged 15 embryonic and 1, 5, 10, 20, 40, 70, and 90 postnatal days indicated that significantly higher levels (P < .01) of N-cadherin and desmoplakin than of connexin43 were immunolocalized to cell termini by as early as postnatal day 5. Although all three junctions types showed increasing polarization to myocyte termini with development, variation between junctions remained significant (P < .05) at all times points between 5 and 70 postnatal days. Only at 90 postnatal days, when the animals were nearly full grown, did the proportions of gap junction, desmosome, and adherens junction at intercalated disks become statistically similar (P > .05). Examination of myocardium from 1- and 3-month-old canines revealed that related differential changes to the spatiotemporal distribution of intercellular junctions occurred during postnatal maturation of the dog heart, suggesting that the process was not rodent specific. It is concluded that this progressive change in the organization and pattern of association between gap junctions and cell adhesion junctions is likely to be an important factor in maturation of electromechanical function within the mammalian heart.

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