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Prog Retin Eye Res. 2011 Sep;30(5):296-323. doi: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2011.06.002. Epub 2011 Jun 17.

Integration of tight junctions and claudins with the barrier functions of the retinal pigment epithelium.

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Department of Surgery and Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Yale University School of Medicine, PO Box 208062, New Haven, CT 06520-8062, USA.


The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) forms the outer blood-retinal barrier by regulating the movement of solutes between the fenestrated capillaries of the choroid and the photoreceptor layer of the retina. Blood-tissue barriers use various mechanisms to accomplish their tasks including membrane pumps, transporters, and channels, transcytosis, metabolic alteration of solutes in transit, and passive but selective diffusion. The last category includes tight junctions, which regulate transepithelial diffusion through the spaces between neighboring cells of the monolayer. Tight junctions are extraordinarily complex structures that are dynamically regulated. Claudins are a family of tight junctional proteins that lend tissue specificity and selectivity to tight junctions. This review discusses how the claudins and tight junctions of the RPE differ from other epithelia and how its functions are modulated by the neural retina. Studies of RPE-retinal interactions during development lend insight into this modulation. Notably, the characteristics of RPE junctions, such as claudin composition, vary among species, which suggests the physiology of the outer retina may also vary. Comparative studies of barrier functions among species should deepen our understanding of how homeostasis is maintained in the outer retina. Stem cells provide a way to extend these studies of RPE-retinal interactions to human RPE.

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