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Mol Biol Cell. 2000 May;11(5):1687-96.

Truncation mutants of the tight junction protein ZO-1 disrupt corneal epithelial cell morphology.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


The tight junction is the most apical intercellular junction of epithelial cells and regulates transepithelial permeability through the paracellular pathway. To examine possible functions for the tight junction-associated protein ZO-1, C-terminally truncated mutants and a deletion mutant of ZO-1 were epitope tagged and stably expressed in corneal epithelial cell lines. Only full-length ZO-1 and one N-terminal truncation mutant targeted to cell borders; other mutants showed variable cytoplasmic distributions. None of the mutants initially disrupted the localization of endogenous ZO-1. However, long-term stable expression of two of the N-terminal mutants resulted in a dramatic change in cell shape and patterns of gene expression. An elongated fibroblast-like shape replaced characteristic epithelial cobblestone morphology. In addition, vimentin and smooth muscle actin expression were up-regulated, although variable cytokeratin expression remained, suggesting a partial transformation to a mesenchymal cell type. Concomitant with the morphological change, the expression of the integral membrane tight junction protein occludin was significantly down-regulated. The localizations of endogenous ZO-1 and another family member, ZO-2, were disrupted. These findings suggest that ZO-1 may participate in regulation of cellular differentiation.

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