Intercellular communication, especially gap junctional communication, is thought to be one of the highly differentiated functions of hepatocytes. In primary cultures of rat hepatocytes, it has been considered that the maintenance and the reinduction of differentiated functions is very difficult. In the present study, we succeeded in inducing the gap junctional protein connexin32 (Cx32) in adult rat hepatocytes cultured in serum-free L-15 medium supplemented with epidermal growth factor (EGF) and dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO). When the hepatocytes were cultured in L-15 medium supplemented with 20 mM NaHCO3 and 10 ng/ml EGF in a 5% CO2:95% air incubator, the cells proliferated. Fluorescence immunocytochemistry showed spots immunoreactive to Cx32 on the cell membranes between adjacent cells until day 3, but only a few Cx32-positive spots were found after day 4. Western and northern blot analyses also showed that the amounts of both the protein and mRNA of Cx32 in the cells decreased with time in culture. However, when the cells were treated with 2% DMSO from day 4, the immunoreactive spots reappeared on the cell membranes from day 6 and both their number and intensity gradually increased. The reappearance of Cx32 was accompanied by increases in both the protein and mRNA of Cx32. Furthermore, the expression of Cx32 was well maintained, together with extensive gap junctional intercellular communication, for more than 4 weeks. In addition, ultrastructurally, many gap junctional structures were observed between the hepatocytes, and the antibodies to Cx32 were shown to bind to those structures. This culture system may be useful for studies of the reconstruction of the gap junctional structure, the intracellular pathways of the proteins, and the regulation of synthesis and processing in differentiated hepatocytes.