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Cell Adhes Commun. 1996 Nov;4(4-5):223-35.

Correlation of expression of connexin mRNA isoforms with degree of cellular differentiation.

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Liver Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York 10461, USA.


Examination of rat hepatic cell lines has revealed a correlation between the differentiated state of the cells and the gap junctional proteins, or connexins, they express. The cell lines RLC (Gershenson et al, 1970) and FTO.2B (Killary et al, 1984) were examined and compared to primary adult hepatocytes for expression of fetal and adult hepatic antigens under various tissue culture conditions. Maximal expression of fetal antigens was observed in cells grown in serum-supplemented medium, on either tissue culture plastic or type IV collagen. Maximal expression of adult specific antigens was seen in cells grown in a hormonally defined medium containing heparin, on type I or type IV collagen. The cell line RLC strongly expressed fetal antigens, while FTO.2B expressed both fetal and adult antigens. These cell lines and another poorly differentiated hepatic cell line, WB-F344 (Tsao et al., 1984) were used to assess the developmental profile of mRNAs encoding isoforms of gap junctions: connexins 26, 32, and 43. The cell lines each transcribed mRNAs of all three connexins, as determined by transcriptional elongation analysis. By contrast, only certain of the connexin mRNAs could be detected in specific cell lines by Northern analysis: RLC expressed only connexin 43 mRNA; WB-F344 expressed connexin 32 and 43 mRNAs. Selection among the connexin mRNAs appears to occur post-transcriptionally. Culture of the cell lines in hormonally defined medium vs. serum supplemented medium did not affect the patterns of connexin mRNA abundance. When the cell lines were cultured in hormonally defined medium containing heparin, however, the level of connexin mRNAs did vary: Connexin 26 mRNA increased in WB-F344 cells, and connexins 32 and 43 mRNAs increased in FTO.2B, but connexin 43 mRNA decreased in WB-F344 and RLC. The abundance of connexin mRNAs also varied when the cell lines were analyzed at different cell densities: connexin 43 mRNA increased with cell density in RLC and WB-F344, and connexin 26 mRNA peaked at an intermediate density and fell at higher cell densities in WB-F344. The differences in connexin mRNA expression among cell lines characteristic of different stages of hepatic differentiation, and the differences in regulation of connexin mRNAs in the hepatic cell lines, suggest distinct biological roles of the highly homologous proteins. Moreover, connexin gene expression may be a marker of hepatic development: as hepatocytes differentiate the proportions of connexin 43 then 26 mRNAs decrease while that of connexin 32 mRNA increases.

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