Xenopus mRNAs that potentially encode gap junction proteins in the oocyte and early embryo have been identified by low-stringency screening of cDNA libraries with cloned mammalian gap junction cDNAs. The levels of these mRNAs show strikingly different temporal regulation and tissue distribution. Using a nomenclature designed to stress important structural similarities of distinct gap junction gene products, the deduced polypeptides have been designated the Xenopus alpha 1 and alpha 2 gap junction proteins. The alpha 2 gap junction mRNA is a maternal transcript that disappears by the late gastrula stage. It is not detected in any organ of the adult except the ovary, and resides primarily, if not exclusively, in the oocytes and early embryos. The alpha 1 gap junction mRNA appears during organogenesis, and is detected in RNA from a wide variety of organs. It is also found in full-grown oocytes, but is rapidly degraded upon oocyte maturation, both in vivo and in vitro. The alpha 1 and alpha 2 mRNAs encode proteins with different degrees of amino acid sequence similarity to the predominant gap junction subunit of the mammalian heart (connexin 43). Together with our earlier report of a mid-embryonic (beta 1) gap junction mRNA, the results suggest that intercellular communication during oocyte growth and postfertilization development is a complex phenomenon involving the coordinated regulation of several genes.

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