Intercellular gap junction channels are thought to form when oligomers of connexins from one cell (connexons) register and pair with connexons from a neighboring cell en route to forming tightly packed arrays (plaques). In the current study we used the rat mammary BICR-M1Rk tumor cell line to examine the trafficking, maturation, and kinetics of connexin43 (Cx43). Cx43 was conclusively shown to reside in the Golgi apparatus in addition to sites of cell-cell apposition in these cells and in normal rat kidney cells. Brefeldin A (BFA) blocked Cx43 trafficking to the surface of the mammary cells and also prevented phosphorylation of the 42-kD form of Cx43 to 44- and 46-kD species. However, phosphorylation of Cx43 occurred in the presence of BFA while it was still a resident of the ER or Golgi apparatus yielding a 43-kD form of Cx43. Moreover, the 42- and 43-kD forms of Cx43 trapped in the ER/Golgi compartment were available for gap junction assembly upon the removal of BFA. Mammary cells treated with BFA for 6 h lost preexisting gap junction "plaques," as well as the 44- and 46-kD forms of Cx43 and functional coupling. These events were reversible 1 h after the removal of BFA and not dependent on protein synthesis. In summary, we provide strong evidence that in BICR-M1Rk tumor cells: (a) Cx43 is transiently phosphorylated in the ER/Golgi apparatus, (b) Cx43 trapped in the ER/Golgi compartment is not subject to rapid degradation and is available for the assembly of new gap junction channels upon the removal of BFA, (c) the rapid turnover of gap junction plaques is correlated with the loss of the 44- and 46-kD forms of Cx43.

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