Clusterin is a broadly distributed glycoprotein constitutively expressed by various tissues and cell types, that has been shown to be involved in cell-cell adhesion and expressed during cellular differentiation in vitro. To assess the suggested participation of clusterin in these processes in vivo, we have cloned the cDNA encoding murine clusterin and studied the cellular distribution of clusterin mRNA during murine embryogenesis. Sequence analysis of the cDNA encoding murine clusterin revealed 92 and 75% sequence identity with the rat and human cDNAs, respectively, and conservation of the predicted structural features which include alpha-helical regions and heparin-binding domains. From 12.5 d of development onwards, the clusterin gene is widely expressed in developing epithelia, and selectively localized within the differentiating cell layers of tissues such as the developing skin, tooth, and duodenum where proliferating and differentiating compartments are readily distinguished. In addition, transient and localized clusterin gene expression was detected in certain morphogenetically active epithelia. In the lung, abundant gene transcripts were detected in cuboidal epithelial cells of the terminal lung buds during branching morphogenesis, and in the kidney, clusterin gene expression in the epithelial cells of comma and S-shaped bodies coincided with the process of polarization. Our results demonstrate the in vivo expression of the clusterin gene by differentiating epithelial cells during murine embryogenesis, and provide novel evidence suggesting that clusterin may be involved in the differentiation and morphogenesis of certain epithelia.

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