We have compared intercellular communication in the regenerating and normal livers of weanling rats. The electrophysiological studies were conducted at the edge of the liver, and we have found that here as elsewhere in the liver there is a dramatic decrease in the number and size of gap junctions during regeneration. The area of hepatocyte membrane occupied by gap junctions is reduced 100-fold 29-35 h after hepatectomy. By combining observations made with the scanning electron microscope with our freeze fracture data we have estimated the number of "communicating interfaces" (areas of contact between hepatocytes that include at least one gap junction) formed by hepatocytes in normal and regenerating liver. In normal liver a hepatocyte forms gap junctions with every hepatocyte it contacts (approximately 6). In regenerating liver a hepatocyte forms detectable gap junctions with, on average, only one other hepatocyte. Intercellular spread of fluorescent dye and electric current is reduced in regenerating as compared with normal liver. The incidence of electric coupling is reduced from 100% of hepatocyte pairs tested in control liver to 92% in regenerating liver. Analysis of the spatial dependence of electronic potentials indicates a substantial increase in intercellular resistance in regenerating liver. A quantitative comparison of our morphological and physiological data is complicated by tortuous pattern of current flow and by inhomogeneities in the liver during regeneration. Nevertheless we believe that our results are consistent with the hypothesis that gap junctions are aggregates of channels between cell interiors.

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