We investigated the expression and localization of connexins (CX) 26 and 43 in the rat gingival epithelium. RT-PCR analysis revealed CX26 gene expression in both the upper and lower layers of the gingival epithelium and in the total epithelial layer, whereas CX43 gene expression was limited to the lower layer and the total epithelial layer. Immunoreactivity for CX43 was observed in the membranes of adjacent cells from the basal layer to the middle of the prickle cell layer, while immunoreactivity for CX26 was observed in the granular cell layer and lower part of the squamous cell layer. Merged images revealed the co-localization of CX26 and CX43 in the middle of the prickle cell layer. By immuno-electron microscopy, gap junctions appeared curved, hemi-circular, or annular within the cytoplasm, and gold particles indicating the presence of CX43 were localized at the outer edges of these cytoplasmic formations. These results suggest that CX43 is associated with the regulation of cell proliferation and that increased CX26 expression is associated with differentiation of keratinocytes. Thus, degradation of CX43 is considered to play an essential role in differentiation of the rat gingival epithelium.
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