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Mol Biol Cell. 2009 Aug;20(16):3713-24. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E09-01-0080. Epub 2009 Jun 17.

Tricellulin forms a barrier to macromolecules in tricellular tight junctions without affecting ion permeability.

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Institute of Clinical Physiology, Charité, Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany.


Tricellulin is a tight junction protein localized in tricellular tight junctions (tTJs), the meeting points of three cells, but also in bicellular tight junctions (bTJs). To investigate its specific barrier functions in bTJs and tTJs, TRIC-a was expressed in low-level tricellulin-expressing cells, and MDCK II, either in all TJs or only in tTJs. When expressed in all TJs, tricellulin increased paracellular electrical resistance and decreased permeability to ions and larger solutes, which are associated with enhanced ultrastructural integrity of bTJs toward enhanced strand linearity. In tTJs in contrast, ultrastructure was unchanged and tricellulin minimized permeability to macromolecules but not to ions. This paradox is explained by properties of the tTJ central tube which is wide enough for passage of macromolecules, but too rare to contribute significantly to ion permeability. In conclusion, at low tricellulin expression the tTJ central tube forms a pathway for macromolecules. At higher expression, tricellulin forms a barrier in tTJs effective only for macromolecules and in bTJs for solutes of all sizes.

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