Expression of three hepatocellular membrane proteins—the asialoglycoprotein receptor (hepatic binding protein) the insulin receptor and organic anion binding protein—have been studied in the HepG2 cell line. HepG2 grown in minimal essential medium supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum maximally expressed hepatic binding protein and insulin receptor only at confluence while organic anion binding protein appeared independent of the state of cellular proliferation. When cells were grown in medium supplemented with dialyzed fetal bovine serum, adult bovine serum or in chemically defined medium, expression of hepatic binding protein and insulin receptor but not organic anion binding protein was reduced by 60 to 80%. Immunoblotting techniques revealed that cells grown in dialyzed fetal bovine serum contained virtually no mature, glycosylated 45 kD hepatic binding protein, but a small amount of 36 kD protein. Metabolic labeling of cells grown in dialyzed fetal bovine serum with [35S] methionine indicated reduced synthesis of the 45 kD hepatic binding protein and the absence of the 36 kD protein. Restoration of normal expression of hepatic binding protein and insulin receptor was achieved by addition to dialyzed fetal bovine serum of: fetal bovine serum; 2,000 dalton ultrafiltrate of fetal bovine serum, or 300 to 350 dalton fraction of the ultrafiltrate. The normal concentration of organic anion binding protein demonstrable in cells grown in dialyzed fetal bovine serum indicates that the low molecular weight factor(s) is not a generalized modulator of plasma membrane biogenesis. However, its effect on the steady‐state level of the hepatic binding protein and insulin receptor, characteristic of mature hepatocytes, suggests a role for this fetal serum factor in hepatocellular differentiation.
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