We have evaluated the biochemical, morphological, and functional redevelopment of polarity in freshly isolated hepatocytes cultured using a double layer collagen gel sandwich technique. Western blot analysis showed increased cellular levels of the cell adhesion protein uvomorulin as cultured hepatocytes repolarized. Immunofluorescence studies using antibodies against domain-specific membrane proteins showed polarity as early as 48 hours, although the pattern of the polymeric Immunoglobulin-A receptor (pIgA-R) differed from in vivo liver. Electron microscopy showed developing bile canaliculi at 1 day. However, the functional presence of tight junctions was absent at 1 day, but present at 5 days. We further showed functional polarity to be present at 4 days by documenting the ability of cultured hepatocytes to metabolize and excrete fluorescein diacetate into visible bile canaliculi. We conclude that hepatocytes cultured appropriately develop morphological and functional polarity. Hepatocyte culture is therefore a useful tool for the study of mechanisms responsible for the development of polarized function.
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