Primary monolayer cultures were obtained in 60-mm petri dishes by incubating 3 X 10(6) isolated hepatocytes at 37 degrees C in Dulbecco's medium supplemented with 17% fetal calf serum. The ultrastructure of monolayer cells was examined after various incubation periods. Within 4 h of plating, the isolated spherical cells adhere to the plastic surface, establish their first contacts by numerous intertwined microvilli, and form new hemidesmosomes. After 12 h of culture, wide branched trabeculae of flattened polyhedral cells extend in all directions. Finally, after 24 h of culture, bile canaliculi are reconstituted, and a biliary polarity is recovered: the Golgi elements, which are scattered throughout the cytoplasm in the isolated cells, are reassembled in front of the newly formed bile canalculi, symmetrically in the adjacent cells; lysosomes are concentrated in that region, and microtubules reappear. Concomitantly, plasma membrane differentiations, namely desmosomes and tight junctions, develop. Tight junctions sealing the bile ducts constitute a barrier to the passage of ruthenium red and horseradish peroxidase. De novo formation of these junctions was studied by the freeze-etching technique: 10-nm particles compose a network of anastomosed linear arrays in the vicinity of the bile canaliculi; in the next step of differentiation, the particles fuse, form short ridge segments and finally continuous branched smooth strands, characteristic of the mature tight junction.

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