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Arch Med Res. 2007 Jul;38(5):465-78.

New diseases derived or associated with the tight junction.

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Center For Research & Advanced Studies (CINVESTAV), Mexico City, Mexico.


The space between neighboring epithelial cells is sealed by the tight junction (TJ). When this seal is leaky, such as in the proximal tubule of the kidney or the gallbladder, substances may cross the epithelium between the cells (paracellular pathway). Yet, when TJs are really hermetic, as is the case in the epithelium of the urinary bladder or the colon, substances can mainly cross the epithelium through the transcellular pathway. The structure of the TJ involves (so far) some 50-odd protein species. Failure of any of these components causes a variety of diseases, some of them so serious that fetuses are not viable. A fast-growing number of diseases are recognized to depend or involve alterations in the TJ. These include autoimmune diseases, in which intestinal TJs allow the passage of antigens from the intestinal flora, challenging the immune system to produce antibodies that may cross react with proteins in the brain, thyroid gland or pancreas. TJs are also involved in cancer development, infections, allergies, etc. The present article does not catalogue all TJ diseases known so far, but describes one of each type as illustration. It also depicts the efforts being made to find pharmaceutical agents that would seal faulty TJs or release their grip to allow for the passage of large molecules through the upper respiratory and digestive tracts, such as insulin, thyroid, appetite-regulatory peptide, etc.

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