Defects in the Germ Line and Gonads of Mice Lacking Connexin431

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The connexins are a family of at least 15 proteins that form the intercellular membrane channels of gap junctions. Numerous connexins, including connexin43 (Cx43), have been implicated in reproductive processes by virtue of their expression in adult gonads. In the present study, we examined the gonads of fetal and neonatal mice homozygous for a null mutation in the Gja1 gene encoding Cx43 to determine whether the absence of this connexin has any consequences for gonadal development. We found that in both sexes at the time of birth, the gonads of homozygous mutants were unusually small. This appears to be caused, at least in part, by a deficiency of germ cells. The germ cell deficiency was traced back as far as Day 11.5 of gestation, implying that it arises during early stages of germ line development. We also used an organ culture technique to examine postnatal folliculogenesis in the mutant ovaries, an approach necessitated by the fact that Gja1 null mutant offspring die soon after birth because of a heart abnormality. The results demonstrated that folliculogenesis can proceed to the primary (unilaminar) follicle stage in the absence of Cx43 but that subsequent development is impaired. In neonatal ovaries of normal mice, Cx43 could be detected in the somatic cells as early as Day 1, when primordial follicles begin to appear, supporting the conclusion that this connexin is required for the earliest stages of folliculogenesis. These results imply that gap junctional coupling mediated by Cx43 channels plays indispensable roles in both germ line development and postnatal folliculogenesis.

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