Affinity-purified antibodies to mouse liver 26- and 21-kD gap junction proteins have been used to characterize gap junctions in liver and cultured hepatocytes. Both proteins are colocalized in the same gap junction plaques as shown by double immunofluorescence and immunoelectron microscopy. In the lobules of rat liver, the 21-kD immunoreactivity is detected as a gradient of fluorescent spots on apposing plasma membranes, the maximum being in the periportal zone and a faint reaction in the perivenous zone. In contrast, the 26-kD immunoreactivity is evenly distributed in fluorescent spots on apposing plasma membranes throughout the rat liver lobule. Immunoreactive sites with anti-21 kD shown by immunofluorescence are also present in exocrine pancreas, proximal tubules of the kidney, and the epithelium of small intestine. The 21-kD immunoreactivity was not found in thin sections of myocardium and adult brain cortex. Subsequent to partial rat hepatectomy, both the 26- and 21-kD proteins first decrease and after approximately 2 d increase again. By comparison of the 26- and 21-kD immunoreactivity in cultured embryonic mouse hepatocytes, we found (a) the same pattern of immunoreactivity on apposing plasma membranes and colocalization within the same plaque, (b) a similar decrease after 1 d and subsequent increase after 3 d of both proteins, (c) cAMP-dependent in vitro phosphorylation of the 26-kD but not of the 21-kD protein, and (d) complete inhibition of intercellular transfer of Lucifer Yellow in all hepatocytes microinjected with anti-26 kD and, in most cases, partial inhibition of dye transfer after injection of anti-21 kD. Our results indicate that both the 26-kD and the 21-kD proteins are functional gap junction proteins.

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