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Eur J Cell Biol. 1993 Feb;60(1):21-30.

Depleting cell cholesterol alters calcium-induced assembly of tight junctions by monolayers of MDCK cells.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Lowell.


A role for lipids in the formation of tight junctions (TJ) has been proposed. Attempts to relate changes in whole cell phospholipid composition to the formation of TJs, however, have yielded equivocal results. The object in the present study was to relate changes in TJ of MDCK cells more specifically to alterations in plasma membrane lipids. Cholesterol, which resides primarily in the plasma membrane, was reduced by 25% after incubation of cell monolayers for 24 h in a low Ca2+ medium supplemented with (1-2 microM) Lovastatin, an inhibitor of hydroxymethylglutarylcoenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase. This was associated with a halving of the time required for Ca2+ to induce TJ formation as monitored by transepithelial electrical resistance (TER). [3H]Mannitol flux, and morphometric measurements made on freeze fracture replicas confirm that the effects on TER reflect changes in the characteristics of the paracellular pathway. Peak and steady state values of TER were also elevated over control values. The changes in cholesterol content and the time course for TJ assembly were apparent at levels of Lovastatin which do not affect prenylation of proteins, and were prevented if 5 mM mevalonate was present along with Lovastatin. Paradoxically, despite a decrease of approximately 1/3 in the Ca concentration required to yield maximum rates of TJ assembly, 45Ca2+ uptake was actually reduced after cholesterol depletion. The data suggest that cholesterol may modulate the properties of membrane proteins and/or phospholipids which interact with Ca2+, possibly on the exoplasmic leaflet, during TJ assembly.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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