Normal outgrowth and fusion of facial primordia during vertebrate development require interaction of diverse tissues and co-ordination of many different signalling pathways. Gap junction channels, made up of subunits consisting of connexin proteins, facilitate communication between cells and are implicated in embryonic development. Here we describe the distribution of connexin43 and connexin32 gap junction proteins in the developing chick face. To test the function of connexin43 protein, we applied antisense oligodeoxynucleotides that specifically reduced levels of connexin43 protein in cells of early chick facial primordia. This resulted in stunting of primordia outgrowth and led to facial defects. Furthermore, cell proliferation in regions of facial primordia that normally express high levels of connexin43 protein was reduced and this was associated with lower levels of Msx-1 expression. Facial defects arise when retinoic acid is applied to the face of chick embryos at later stages. This treatment also resulted in significant reduction in connexin43 protein, while connexin32 protein expression was unaffected. Taken together, these results indicate that connexin43 plays an essential role during early morphogenesis and subsequent outgrowth of the developing chick face.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.