Normal adult rat hepatocytes plated on rat tail collagen-coated dishes and fed a chemically defined medium supplemented with epidermal growth factor and dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) were examined over a 40-d culture period for (a) the amount of albumin secreted; (b) steady-state albumin mRNA levels; (c) steady-state mRNA levels for six other liver-specific genes and three common genes; and (d)transcription of several liver-specific and common genes using isolated nuclei. DMSO-treated hepatocytes in culture for 40 d expressed albumin mRNA at 45% the level of normal liver and five other liver-specific genes at levels ranging from 21% to 72% of those in normal liver. The rate of synthesis of ligandin RNA using nuclei from 40-d hepatocytes in a nascent chain extension assay was 130% of the value obtained for normal liver, indicating that liverlike transcriptional activity for ligandin was maintained in this in vitro culture system. In contrast, the rates of synthesis of albumin and phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PepCK) mRNAs using nuclei from 40-d hepatocytes were 8% and less than 1%, respectively, and, therefore, were at levels that were much lower than was expected given the steady-state mRNA levels for these two genes. The discrepancy between the steady-state mRNA levels and rates of synthesis of RNA was analyzed, and the results suggest that the albumin and PepCK mRNAs from hepatocytes in culture may be more stable than those from liver. A plateau period for secretion of albumin, expression of albumin, alpha 1-antitrypsin, ligandin, phenylalanine hydroxylase, and PepCK mRNAs, and synthesis of albumin RNA using isolated nuclei was observed from days 6 to 40. The usefulness at a biological and molecular level of a hepatocyte culture system in which liver-specific genes are expressed over a long plateau period is discussed.

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