The role of the basal lamina in maintaining the normal morphology of mouse embryo submandibular epithelia was assessed by examining its production as well as the cellular and organ culture changes associated with its removal and replacement. The lamina was removed from epithelia isolated free of mesenchyme by brief treatment with testicular hyaluronidase in the absence of calcium. The treatment causes rounding-up of the cells, loss of cellular cohesion, appearance of microvilli, and changes in the organization of cytoskeletal structures. The lamina is not removed and the cellular alterations do not occur in the absence of hyaluronidase in calcium-free medium or when both enzyme and calcium are present, possibly because digestion of chondroitin sulfate, a component of the lamina, is inhibited by calcium. Within 2 h after treatment, in the absence of mesenchyme or biological substrata, the epithelia deposits a new lamina, which is identical by several criteria to the preexisting lamina, and reverses the cellular alterations. Epithelia treated with hyaluronidase lose lobular morphology during culture with mesenchyme. Delaying culture with mesenchyme, to allow restoration of the lamina and of normal cellular architecture, prevents the loss of lobular morphology. The results indicate that the basal lamina imposes morphologic stability on the epithelium, while the mesenchyme apparently affects processes involved in changes in morphology, possibly by selective degradation of the basal lamina.

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