Multiple members of the connexin gene family participate in preimplantation development of the mouse

T C Davies, K J Barr, D H Jones, D Zhu, G M Kidder
Developmental Genetics 1996, 18 (3): 234-43
The connexin gene family, of which there are at least 12 members in rodents, encodes the protein subunits intercellular membrane channels (gap junction channels). Because of the diverse structural and biophysical properties exhibited by the different connexins, it has been proposed that each may play a unique role in development or homeostasis. We have begun to test this hypothesis in the preimplantation mouse embryo in which de novo gap junction assembly is a developmentally regulated event. As a first step, we have used reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to determine the connexin mRNA phenotype of mouse blastocysts, and have identified transcripts of connexins 30.3, 31, 31.1, 40, 43, and 45. Quantitative measurements indicated that all six of these connexin genes are transcribed after fertilization. They can be divided into two groups with respect to the timing of mRNA accumulation: Cx31, Cx43, and Cx45 mRNAs accumulate continuously from the two- or four-cell stage, whereas Cx30.3, Cx31.1, and Cx40 mRNAs accumulate beginning in the eight-cell stage. All six mRNAs were found to co-sediment with polyribosomes from their time of first appearance, indicating that all six are translated. The expression of Cx31.1 and Cx40 was examined by confocal immunofluorescence microscopy; whereas both could be detected in compacting embryos, only Cx31.1 could be seen in punctate membrane foci indicative of gap junctions. Taken together with other results (published or submitted), our findings indicate that at least four connexins (Cx31, 31.1, 43 and 45) contribute to gap junctions in preimplantation development. The expression of multiple connexin genes during this early period of embryogenesis (when there are only two distinct cell types) raises questions about the functional significance of connexin diversity in this context.

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