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Am J Physiol. 1993 Apr;264(4 Pt 1):C918-24.

Two classes of tight junctions are revealed by ZO-1 isoforms.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510.


The tight junction forms the intercellular barrier separating tissue compartments. The characteristics of this barrier are remarkably diverse among different epithelia and endothelia and are not explained by our limited knowledge of its molecular composition. Two isoforms of the 220-kDa tight junction protein ZO-1 result from alternative RNA splicing and differ by an internal 80-amino acid domain, termed alpha (E. Willott, M. S. Balda, M. Heintzman, B. Jameson, and J. M. Anderson. Am. J. Physiol. 262 (Cell Physiol. 31): C1119-C1124, 1992). Using antibodies specific for each isoform and double-labeled immunofluorescence microscopy, we observed that the ZO-1 alpha- isoform is restricted to junctions of endothelial cells and highly specialized epithelial cells of both seminiferous tubules (Sertoli cells) and renal glomeruli (podocytes); in contrast, the ZO-1 alpha+ isoform is expressed in cells of all other epithelia examined. Both immunoblotting and ribonuclease protection analysis confirmed this pattern of expression. This distribution does not correlate with differences in junctional resistance or ultrastructural complexity. Instead, we observe a correlation with junctional plasticity; ZO-1 alpha- is expressed in structurally dynamic junctions, whereas ZO-1 alpha+ is expressed in those which are less dynamic. This is the first molecular distinction among tight junctions and reveals a fundamental dichotomy with implications for how the paracellular barriers of endothelia and epithelia are regulated.

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