Using an in vitro model in which a confluent monolayer of capillary endothelial cells is mechanically wounded, gap junction-mediated intercellular communication has been studied by loading the cells with the fluorescent dye, Lucifer Yellow. Approximately 40-50% of the cells in a nonwounded confluent monolayer were coupled in groups of four to five cells (basal level). Basal levels of communication were also observed in sparse and preconfluent cultures, but were reduced in postconfluent monolayers. 30 min after wounding, coupling was markedly reduced between cells lining the wound. Communication at the wound was partially reestablished by 2 h, exceeded basal levels after 6 h and reached a maximum after 24 h, at which stage approximately 90% of the cells were coupled in groups of six to seven cells. When the wound had closed (after 8 d), the increase in communication was no longer observed. Induction of wound-associated communication was unaffected by exposure of the cells to the DNA synthesis inhibitor mitomycin C, but was prevented by the protein synthesis inhibitor, cycloheximide. The induction of wound-associated communication was also inhibited when migration was prevented by placing the cells immediately after wounding at 22 degrees C or after exposure to cytochalasin D, suggesting that the increase in communication is dependent on cells migrating into the wound area. In contrast, migration was not prevented when coupling was blocked by exposure of the cells to retinoic acid, although this agent did disrupt the characteristic sheet-like pattern of migration typically seen during endothelial repair. These results suggest that junctional communication may play an important role in wound repair, possibly by coordinating capillary endothelial cell migration.

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