Transgenic mice were generated containing a cytomegaloviral promoter driven construct (CMV43) expressing the gap junction polylpeptide connexin 43. RNA and protein analysis confirmed that the transgene was being expressed. In situ hybridization analysis of embryo sections revealed that transgene expression was targeted to the dorsal neural tube and in subpopulations of neural crest cells. This expression pattern was identical to that seen in transgenic mice harboring other constructs driven by the cytomegaloviral promoter (Kothary, R., Barton, S. C., Franz, T., Norris, M. L., Hettle, S. and Surani, M. A. H. (1991) Mech. Develop. 35, 25–31; Koedood, M., Fitchel, A., Meier, P. and Mitchell, P. (1995) J. Virol. 69, 2194–2207), and corresponded to a subset of the endogenous Cx43 expression domains. Significantly, dye injection studies showed that transgene expression resulted in an increase in gap junctional communication. Though viable and fertile, these transgenic mice exhibited reduced postnatal viability. Examination of embryos at various stages of development revealed developmental perturbations consisting of cranial neural tube defects (NTD) and heart malformations. Interestingly, breeding of the CMV43 transgene into the Cx43 knockout mice extended postnatal viability of mice homozygote for the Cx43 knockout allele, indicating that the CMV43 trangsene may partially complement the Cx43 deletion. Both the Cx43 knockout and the CMV43 transgenic mice exhibit heart defects associated with malformations in the conotruncus, a region of the heart in which neural crest derivatives are known to have important roles during development. Together with our results indicating neural-crest-specific expression of the transgene in our CMV-based constructs, these observations strongly suggest a role for Cx43-mediated gap junctional communication in neural crest development. Furthermore, these observations indicate that the precise level of Cx43 function may be of critical importance in downstream events involving these migratory cell populations. As such, the CMV43 mouse may represent a powerful new model system for examining the role of extracardiac cell populations in cardiac morphogenesis and other developmental processes.

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