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Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2014 May;50(5):857-69. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2013-0541RT.

Breaking barriers. New insights into airway epithelial barrier function in health and disease.

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1 Division of Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, and.


Epithelial permeability is a hallmark of mucosal inflammation, but the molecular mechanisms involved remain poorly understood. A key component of the epithelial barrier is the apical junctional complex that forms between neighboring cells. Apical junctional complexes are made of tight junctions and adherens junctions and link to the cellular cytoskeleton via numerous adaptor proteins. Although the existence of tight and adherens junctions between epithelial cells has long been recognized, in recent years there have been significant advances in our understanding of the molecular regulation of junctional complex assembly and disassembly. Here we review the current thinking about the structure and function of the apical junctional complex in airway epithelial cells, emphasizing the translational aspects of relevance to cystic fibrosis and asthma. Most work to date has been conducted using cell culture models, but technical advancements in imaging techniques suggest that we are on the verge of important new breakthroughs in this area in physiological models of airway diseases.

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