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Am J Pathol. Jul 1997; 151(1): 45–54.
PMCID: PMC1857944

Expression of occludin, tight-junction-associated protein, in human digestive tract.

Abstract

The tight junction seals cells together at a subapical location and functionally separates the plasma membrane into an apical and a basolateral domain. This junction is one of the most characteristic structural markers of the polarized epithelial cell. Recently, occludin has been identified as an integral transmembrane protein localizing at the tight junction and directly associated with ZO-1, an undercoat-constitutive cytoplasmic protein. We have investigated occludin expression in conjunction with ZO-1 in normal epithelia and cancers of human digestive tract by immunostaining with a new antibody raised against human occludin. In the normal simple columnar epithelium, occludin was expressed together with ZO-1 as a single line at the apical cell border. However, in the esophagus, which has a stratified squamous epithelium, no occludin expression could be detected, but ZO-1 was expressed in the spinous layer. As for cancers, both occludin and ZO-1 showed the same expression in differentiated adenocarcinoma cells as in normal epithelium, but in poorly differentiated adenocarcinomas, the expression of these two proteins was reduced. There was significant correlation between tumor differentiation and expression of these proteins. These results suggest that occludin, together with ZO-1, is involved in the formation of gland-like structures. In addition, occludin expression can serve as a histopathological indicator for differentiation in gastrointestinal adenocarcinomas.

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