We characterized the pattern of gap junctional communication in the 7.5-d mouse embryo (at the primitive streak or gastrulation stage). First we examined the pattern of dye coupling by injecting the fluorescent tracers, Lucifer Yellow or carboxyfluorescein, and monitoring the extent of dye spread. These studies revealed that cells within all three germ layers are well coupled, as the injected dye usually spread rapidly from the site of impalement into the neighboring cells. The dye spread, however, appeared to be restricted at specific regions of the embryo. Further thick section histological analysis revealed little or no dye transfer between germ layers, indicating that each is a separate communication compartment. The pattern of dye movement within the embryonic ectoderm and mesoderm further suggested that cells in each of these germ layers may be subdivided into smaller communication compartments, the most striking of which are a number of "box-like" domains. Such compartments, unlike the restrictions observed between germ layers, are consistently only partially restrictive. In light of these results, we further monitored ionic coupling to determine if some coupling might nevertheless persist between germ layers. For these studies, Lucifer Yellow was coinjected while ionic coupling was monitored. The injected Lucifer Yellow facilitated the identification of the impalement sites, both in the live specimen and in thick sections in the subsequent histological analysis. By using this approach, all three germ layers were shown to be ionically coupled, indicating that gap junctional communication is maintained across the otherwise dye-uncoupled "germ layer compartments." Thus our results demonstrate that partially restrictive communication compartments are associated with the delamination of germ layers in the gastrulating mouse embryo. The spatial distribution of these compartments are consistent with a possible role in the underlying development.

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