We have found that basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), applied to cortical progenitor cells in vitro, produces an increase in the expression of the gap junction protein connexin (Cx) 43 and in the mRNA encoding Cx 43. This effect was evident in both proliferating and nonproliferating cells. The elevated levels of mRNA suggest that bFGF is likely to exert its effect by upregulating the rate of transcription of the Cx 43 gene. We have further shown that the increase in Cx 43 expression is mediated through the receptor tyrosine kinase pathway and is associated with enhanced intercellular dye-coupling mediated by gap junctions. These results suggest that gap junction channels provide a direct conduit for mitogens released in response to bFGF to effectively regulate proliferation during corticogenesis.