The effect of 12-O-tetradeconylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) on gap junction assembly between Novikoff hepatoma cells was examined. Cells were dissociated with EDTA to single cells and then reaggregated to form new junctions. When TPA (25 nM) was added to the cells at the onset of the 60-min reaggregation, dye transfer was detected at only 0.6% of the cell-cell interfaces compared to 72% for the untreated control and 74% for 4-alpha TPA, an inactive isomer of TPA. Freeze-fracture electron microscopy of reaggregated control cells showed interfaces containing an average of more than 600 aggregated intramembranous gap junction particles, while TPA-treated cells had no gap junctions. However, Lucifer yellow dye transfer between nondissociated cells via gap junctions was unaffected by 60 min of TPA treatment. Therefore, TPA dramatically inhibited gap junction assembly but did not alter channel gating nor enhance disassembly of preexisting gap junction structures. Short term TPA treatment (< 30 min) increased phosphorylation of the gap junction protein molecular weight of 43,000 (Cx43), but did not change the cellular level of Cx43. Cell surface biotinylation experiments suggested that TPA did not substantially reduce the plasma membrane concentration of Cx43. Therefore, the simple presence of Cx43 in the plasma membrane is not sufficient for gap junction assembly, and protein kinase C probably exerts an effect on assembly of gap junctions at the plasma membrane level.

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