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BMC Cell Biol. 2006 Mar 1;7:12.

Microtubules regulate disassembly of epithelial apical junctions.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA.



Epithelial tight junction (TJ) and adherens junction (AJ) form the apical junctional complex (AJC) which regulates cell-cell adhesion, paracellular permeability and cell polarity. The AJC is anchored on cytoskeletal structures including actin microfilaments and microtubules. Such cytoskeletal interactions are thought to be important for the assembly and remodeling of apical junctions. In the present study, we investigated the role of microtubules in disassembly of the AJC in intestinal epithelial cells using a model of extracellular calcium depletion.


Calcium depletion resulted in disruption and internalization of epithelial TJs and AJs along with reorganization of perijunctional F-actin into contractile rings. Microtubules reorganized into dense plaques positioned inside such F-actin rings. Depolymerization of microtubules with nocodazole prevented junctional disassembly and F-actin ring formation. Stabilization of microtubules with either docetaxel or pacitaxel blocked contraction of F-actin rings and attenuated internalization of junctional proteins into a subapical cytosolic compartment. Likewise, pharmacological inhibition of microtubule motors, kinesins, prevented contraction of F-actin rings and attenuated disassembly of apical junctions. Kinesin-1 was enriched at the AJC in cultured epithelial cells and it also accumulated at epithelial cell-cell contacts in normal human colonic mucosa. Furthermore, immunoprecipitation experiments demonstrated association of kinesin-1 with the E-cadherin-catenin complex.


Our data suggest that microtubules play a role in disassembly of the AJC during calcium depletion by regulating formation of contractile F-actin rings and internalization of AJ/TJ proteins.

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