Using an established gap junction (GJ) assembly system with experimentally reaggregated cells, we analyzed "formation plaques" (FPs), apparent sites of GJ assembly. Employing freeze-fracture electron microscopy methods combined with filipin labeling of sterols and immunolabeling for connexin43 (Cx43), we demonstrated that FPs constitute distinct membrane "domains" and that their characteristic 10-nm particles contain connexin43, thus representing precursors (i.e., GJ hemichannels) engaged in assembly. Analysis of FPs in new systems - HeLa and N2A cells - resolved questions surrounding several key but poorly understood steps in assembly, including matching of FP membranes in apposed cells, reduction in the separation between FP membranes during assembly, and the process of particle aggregation. Findings also indicated that "docking" of GJ hemichannels occurs within FP domains and contributes to reduction of intermembrane separation between FPs. Other experiments demonstrated that FPs develop following a major C-terminal truncation of Cx43 (M257), although assembly was delayed. Particle aggregation also occurred at lower densities, and densities of particles within developing GJ aggregates failed to achieve fulllength levels. With regard to regulation, inhibition of assembly following protein kinase C activation failed to occur in the M257 truncation mutants, as measured by intercellular dye transfer. However, several C-terminal serine mutations failed to disrupt inhibition.