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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2012 Mar;36(3):432-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2011.01640.x. Epub 2011 Sep 26.

Alcohol increases the permeability of airway epithelial tight junctions in Beas-2B and NHBE cells.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep & Allergy Division, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska 68198-5910, USA.



Tight junctions form a continuous belt-like structure between cells and act to regulate paracellular signaling. Protein kinase C (PKC) has been shown to regulate tight junction assembly and disassembly and is activated by alcohol. Previous research has shown that alcohol increases the permeability of tight junctions in lung alveolar cells. However, little is known about alcohol's effect on tight junctions in epithelium of the conducting airways. We hypothesized that long-term alcohol exposure reduces zonula occluden-1 (ZO-1) and claudin-1 localization at the cell membrane and increases permeability through a PKC-dependent mechanism.


To test this hypothesis, we exposed normal human bronchial epithelial (NHBE) cells, cells from a human bronchial epithelial transformed cell line (Beas-2B), and Beas-2B expressing a PKCα dominant negative (DN) to alcohol (20, 50, and 100 mM) for up to 48 hours. Immunofluorescence was used to assess changes in ZO-1, claudin-1, claudin-5, and claudin-7 localization. Electric cell-substrate impedance sensing was used to measure the permeability of tight junctions between monolayers of NHBE, Beas-2B, and DN cells.


Alcohol increased tight junction permeability in a concentration-dependent manner and decreased ZO-1, claudin-1, claudin-5, and claudin-7 localization at the cell membrane. To determine a possible signaling mechanism, we measured the activity of PKC isoforms (alpha, delta, epsilon, and zeta). PKCα activity significantly increased in Beas-2B cells from 1 to 6 hours of 100 mM alcohol exposure, while PKCζ activity significantly decreased at 1 hour and increased at 3 hours. Inhibiting PKCα with Gö-6976 prevented the alcohol-induced protein changes in both ZO-1 and claudin-1 at the cell membrane. PKCα DN Beas-2B cells were resistant to alcohol-induced protein alterations.


These results suggest that alcohol disrupts ZO-1, claudin-1, claudin-5, and claudin-7 through the activation of PKCα, leading to an alcohol-induced "leakiness" in bronchial epithelial cells. Such alcohol-induced airway-leak state likely contributes to the impaired airway host defenses associated with acute and chronic alcohol ingestion.

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