Marked differences in tight junction composition and macromolecular permeability among different intestinal cell types

Sarah C. Pearce, Arwa Al-Jawadi, Kunihiro Kishida, Shiyan Yu, Madeleine Hu, Luke F. Fritzky, Karen L. Edelblum, Nan Gao, Ronaldo P. Ferraris

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46 Scopus citations


Background: Mammalian small intestinal tight junctions (TJ) link epithelial cells to one another and function as a permselective barrier, strictly modulating the passage of ions and macromolecules through the pore and leak pathways, respectively, thereby preventing the absorption of harmful compounds and microbes while allowing regulated transport of nutrients and electrolytes. Small intestinal epithelial permeability is ascribed primarily to the properties of TJs between adjoining enterocytes (ENTs), because there is almost no information on TJ composition and the paracellular permeability of nonenterocyte cell types that constitute a small but significant fraction of the intestinal epithelia. Results: Here we directed murine intestinal crypts to form specialized organoids highly enriched in intestinal stem cells (ISCs), absorptive ENTs, secretory goblet cells, or Paneth cells. The morphological and morphometric characteristics of these cells in organoids were similar to those in vivo. The expression of certain TJ proteins varied with cell type: occludin and tricellulin levels were high in both ISCs and Paneth cells, while claudin-1, -2, and -7 expression was greatest in Paneth cells, ISCs, and ENTs, respectively. In contrast, the distribution of claudin-15, zonula occludens 1 (ZO-1), and E-cadherin was relatively homogeneous. E-cadherin and claudin-7 marked mainly the basolateral membrane, while claudin-2, ZO-1, and occludin resided in the apical membrane. Remarkably, organoids enriched in ENTs or goblet cells were over threefold more permeable to 4 and 10 kDa dextran compared to those containing stem and Paneth cells. The TJ-regulator larazotide prevented the approximately tenfold increases in dextran flux induced by the TJ-disrupter AT1002 into organoids of different cell types, indicating that this ZO toxin nonselectively increases permeability. Forced dedifferentiation of mature ENTs results in the reacquisition of ISC-like characteristics in TJ composition and dextran permeability, suggesting that the post-differentiation properties of TJs are not hardwired. Conclusions: Differentiation of adult intestinal stem cells into mature secretory and absorptive cell types causes marked, but potentially reversible, changes in TJ composition, resulting in enhanced macromolecular permeability of the TJ leak pathway between ENTs and between goblet cells. This work advances our understanding of how cell differentiation affects the paracellular pathway of epithelia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number19
JournalBMC Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Structural Biology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Plant Science
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


  • Claudin
  • Differentiation
  • Enterocyte
  • Epithelia
  • Leak pathway
  • Paracellular
  • Permeability
  • Small intestine
  • Stem cells
  • Tight junction


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