Northern blot analysis of rat heart mRNA probed with a cDNA coding for the principal polypeptide of rat liver gap junctions demonstrated a 3.0-kb band. This band was observed only after hybridization and washing using low stringency conditions; high stringency conditions abolished the hybridization. A rat heart cDNA library was screened with the same cDNA probe under the permissive hybridization conditions, and a single positive clone identified and purified. The clone contained a 220-bp insert, which showed 55% homology to the original cDNA probe near the 5' end. The 220-bp cDNA was used to rescreen a heart cDNA library under high stringency conditions, and three additional cDNAs that together spanned 2,768 bp were isolated. This composite cDNA contained a single 1,146-bp open reading frame coding for a predicted polypeptide of 382 amino acids with a molecular mass of 43,036 D. Northern analysis of various rat tissues using this heart cDNA as probe showed hybridization to 3.0-kb bands in RNA isolated from heart, ovary, uterus, kidney, and lens epithelium. Comparisons of the predicted amino acid sequences for the two gap junction proteins isolated from heart and liver showed two regions of high homology (58 and 42%), and other regions of little or no homology. A model is presented which indicates that the conserved sequences correspond to transmembrane and extracellular regions of the junctional molecules, while the nonconserved sequences correspond to cytoplasmic regions. Since it has been shown previously that the original cDNA isolated from liver recognizes mRNAs in stomach, kidney, and brain, and it is shown here that the cDNA isolated from heart recognizes mRNAs in ovary, uterus, lens epithelium, and kidney, a nomenclature is proposed which avoids categorization by organ of origin. In this nomenclature, the homologous proteins in gap junctions would be called connexins, each distinguished by its predicted molecular mass in kilodaltons. The gap junction protein isolated from liver would then be called connexin32; from heart, connexin43.

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