Foetal-rat hepatocytes were cultured in primary monolayer culture, and activity changes of argininosuccinate synthetase (ASS, EC 6.3.4.5) and argininosuccinase (ASL, EC 4.3.2.1) were followed under defined hormone conditions. In hormone-free medium, cultured cells maintained the enzyme activities at values equal to those of freshly isolated cells for at least 3 days. Continuous addition of dexamethasone produced the development of the two enzyme activities, but only after the first 20h of culture. Under these conditions, urea production by the foetal hepatocytes was concomitantly increased in the culture medium. Pretreatment with dexamethasone for 20h was sufficient to produce the development of ASL activity within the 2 following days. Introduced alone, glucagon induced an increase of ASL activity, but did not affect the ASS activity. The most powerful stimulation of ASS and ASL could be observed in cultured hepatocytes if glucagon and dexamethasone were added simultaneously or sequentially. These results indicated that the development of the receptor complex for the induction of urea-cycle enzymes appears early before birth and established that glucocorticoids amplify the glucagon stimulation of these enzyme activities during foetal life.

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