A simple model system is described for studying synthesis of plasma proteins. The system is based on chick embryo hepatocytes in primary monolayer culture which synthesize a broad spectrum of plasma proteins and secrete them into the culture medium. The secreted proteins are stable and consist almost exclusively of plasma proteins. The cultured cells are nonproliferating hepatic parenchymal cells whose cell mass remains constant in culture. By a modification of Laurell's rocket immunoelectrophoresis, the secreted plasma proteins can be detected in nanogram amounts in 3 microliter of unconcentrated culture medium. Kinetics of secretion are obtained by sequential assay of proteins accumulating in the medium. In this system it is demonstrated that: (a) intracellular plasma protein levels are equivalent to less than 5% of the daily secretion; (b) synthesis and secretion are continuous; and (c) the overall half-time for plasma protein movement along the secretory pathway is less than 10 min. From these results, it follows that the rate at which the plasma proteins are secreted gives a valid estimate of their rate of synthesis. This feature of the culture and the sensitivity of the assay allow routine measurements of plasma protein synthesis without disruption of the cells and without the use of radioisotopes. It is shown, furthermore, that the overall rate of plasma protein synthesis in cultured hepatocytes is constant over a 3-day period and is similar to that of the intact liver. 3,000,000 cells, containing 1 mg cell protein, synthesize 0.2 mg of plasma proteins daily, amounting to one-fifth of hepatocellular protein synthesis. Under the conditions used, albumin synthesis steadily decreases with culture time whereas the synthesis of many other plasma proteins increases. The observed phenotypic changes and reorganization of plasma protein synthesis illustrate how the system may be exploited for studying the regulatory processes governing plasma protein synthesis.

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