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J Comp Physiol B. 2011 Dec;181(8):1023-34. doi: 10.1007/s00360-011-0586-y. Epub 2011 May 25.

Cortisol affects tight junction morphology between pavement cells of rainbow trout gills in single-seeded insert culture.

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  • 1Institute of Zoology and Center for Molecular Biosciences, University of Innsbruck, Technikerstrasse 25, 6020, Innsbruck, Austria.


A primary culture system of rainbow trout gill pavement cells grown on permeable support (single-seeded insert, SSI) was used to examine histological and physiological changes induced by the addition of the corticosteroid hormone cortisol. Pavement cell epithelia were cultured under symmetrical conditions (L15 apical/L15 basolateral) and developed a high transepithelial resistance (TER, 6.84 ± 1.99 kΩ cm(2), mean ± SEM) with a low phenol red diffusion rate (PRD, 0.15 ± 0.03 μmol l(-1)/day). Addition of cortisol to the basolateral compartment increased TER twofold and reduced PRD threefold over a 5-day period. A similar increase in TER could be seen after 24 h apical freshwater (FW) in control cultures. In cortisol-treated cultures FW exposure did not change TER, but PRD increased significantly. Histochemical staining of the cytoskeleton of cells in SSI culture revealed a morphological partitioning into a single mucosal layer of polarized, polygonal cells featuring cortical F-actin rings which were comparable to F-actin rings of epithelial cells on the lamellar and filamental surface, and several unorganized serosal layers of cells with F-actin stress fibers. Addition of cortisol increased cell density by 18% and in the mucosal layer it led to smaller, less polygonal cells with increased height and increased cell contact area. In transmission electron microscopic images two pairs of cytoplasmatic electron-dense structures confining the zonula occludens apically and basally toward the zonula adhaerens were found. Addition of cortisol increased the distance between those paired structures, hence led to deeper tight junctions. The cortisol-induced increase in barrier properties, therefore, involves a structural fortification of the tight junctions which was not generally modified by a short 24-h apical freshwater stress. These results identify cortisol as a regulator of tight junction morphology between pavement cells of euryhaline fish such as the trout.

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