Connexin proteins form transmembranous gap junction channels that connect adjacent cells. Connexin26 and connexin30 have been previously shown to be strongly expressed in the inner ear of adult rats and to be mainly colocalized. Because intercellular connections by gap junction proteins are crucial for maturation of different tissues, we investigated the developmental expression of connexin26 and connexin30 in pre- and postnatal rats using immunocytochemistry. In the rat otocyst, staining for connexin26 as well as for connexin30 appeared at the 17th day of gestation. However, at this stage, expression of connexin30 was low and restricted to the neurosensory epithelium. Beginning from the 3rd postnatal day connexin26 and -30 were expressed with highest immunoreaction in the spiral limbus, the neurosensory epithelium, and between the stria vascularis and the spiral ligament. Beginning from postnatal day 12 the staining pattern resembled that of adult animals, with additional strong staining between all fibrocytes of the spiral ligament. Double labeling experiments demonstrated strongest colocalization of both connexins between the stria vascularis and the spiral ligament. These results demonstrate that development of the cochlear gap junction system precedes the functional maturation of the rat inner ear, which takes place between the 2nd and 3rd postnatal week. In the cochlea of a 22-week-old human embryo, connexin26 and connexin30 could be detected in the lateral wall, suggesting that both connexins also play a crucial role in function of the human inner ear.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.