In a previous paper (Lee et al., 1992), it was shown that normal human mammary epithelial cells (NMEC) express two connexin genes, Cx26 and Cx43, whereas neither gene is transcribed in a series of mammary tumor cell lines (TMEC). In this paper it is shown that normal human mammary fibroblasts (NMF) communicate and express Cx43 mRNA and protein. Transfection of either Cx26 or Cx43 genes into a tumor line, 21MT-2, induced the expression of the corresponding mRNAs and proteins as well as communication via gap junctions (GJs), although immunofluorescence demonstrated that the majority of Cx26 and Cx43 proteins present in transfected TMEC was largely cytoplasmic. Immunoblotting demonstrated that NMEC, NMF, and transfected TMEC each displayed a unique pattern of posttranslationally modified forms of Cx43 protein. The role of different connexins in regulating gap junction intercellular communication (GJIC) was examined using a novel two-dye method to assess homologous and heterologous communication quantitatively. The recipient cell population was prestained with a permanent non-toxic lipophilic dye that binds to membranes irreversibly (PKH26, Zynaxis); and the donor population is treated with a GJ-permeable dye Calcein, a derivative of fluorescein diacetate (Molecular Probes). After mixing the two cell populations under conditions promoting GJ formation, cells were analyzed by flow cytometry to determine the percentage of cells containing both dyes. It is shown here that Cx26 and Cx43 transfectants display strong homologous communication, as do NMEC and NMF. Furthermore, NMEC mixed with NMF communicate efficiently, Cx26 transfectants communicate with NMEC but not with NMF, and Cx43 transfectants communicate with NMF. Communication between Cx26 TMEC transfectants and NMEC was asymetrical with preferential movement of calcein from TMEC to NMEC. Despite the presence of Cx43 as well as Cx26 encoded proteins in the GJs of NMEC, few Cx43 transfectants communicated with NMEC. No heterologous GJIC was observed between Cx26- and Cx43-transfected TMEC suggesting that heterotypic GJs do not form or that Cx26/Cx43 channels do not permit dye transfer.

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