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Gap junctions and impulse propagation in embryonic epithelium of Amphibia

A freeze-etching study

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Summary

Epithelium of amphibian embryos (Cynops orientalis, Xenopus laevis) was found in preceding experiments to generate and conduct impulses during a limited stage (26–37) of development. In order to elucidate the structural basis of impulse propagation, epithelial cells of four stages were examined by the freeze-etching method: (I) before and (II) during acquisition of conductivity; (III) when propagation was fully established, and (IV) when it was no longer present. Only few gap junctions (GJ) of small size were found in groups I and IV. GJ in epithelia of group III were increased in number and size, and appeared morphologically “coupled”, i.e., with more loosely arranged connexons. The size of gap-junctional particles did not differ significantly between coupled and uncoupled stages. Zonulae occludentes seemed “leaky” in stage I, and “tight” in stages II–IV. Thus, the morphological characteristics of specialized junctions between “non excitable cells” correlated with the opening and closing of low resistance intercellular current pathways during embryonic development.

Gap junctions in particular seem to form an essential link in the non-neural stimulus-response system, which may facilitate the mobility of the embryo during early phases of aquatic life before the reflex pathways have been established. Coupling and uncoupling of gap junctions may also play an important role in the regulation of cell differentiation and morphogenetic movement. The experimental model used in this study provides a useful tool for further investigations of structural correlates of gap junctional permeability under physiological conditions.

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Correspondence to K. Akert.

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Chuang-Tseng, M.P., Chuang, H.H., Sandri, C. et al. Gap junctions and impulse propagation in embryonic epithelium of Amphibia. Cell Tissue Res. 225, 249–258 (1982). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00214679

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Key words

  • Skin epithelium
  • Impulse conduction
  • Gap junctions, coupling and uncoupling
  • Amphibian larvae
  • Freeze-etching