The specific activity of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) in bovine adrenal chromaffin cells can be controlled by changing cell density. Chromaffin cells initially plated at low density (2-3 X 10(4) cells/cm2), and subsequently replated at a 10-fold higher density showed a sixfold increase in specific TH activity within 48 h, resulting from enhanced synthesis (increased number of TH molecules as demonstrated by immunotitration and blockade by cycloheximide) rather than activation. The density-mediated TH induction was blocked by inhibitors of both messenger RNA synthesis (alpha-amanitin) and processing (9-beta-arabinofuranosyladenine), indicating a transcriptional level of regulation. Medium conditioned by high density replated cells could not mimic the effect of high density plating itself, thus direct cell contact, rather than a diffusible factor, is responsible for the density-mediated TH induction. Since neither acetylcholinesterase nor lactate dehydrogenase specific activities were increased by high cell density, it can be concluded that the contact-mediated induction of TH is rather specific, and not the result of a general process of enzyme induction.

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