The passive and regulated movement of ions, solutes, and water via spaces between cells of the epithelial monolayer plays a critical role in the normal intestinal functioning. This paracellular pathway displays a high level of structural and functional specialization, with the membrane-spanning complexes of the tight junctions, adherens junctions, and desmosomes ensuring its integrity. Tight junction proteins, like occludin, tricellulin, and the claudin family isoforms, play prominent roles as barriers to unrestricted paracellular transport. The past decade has witnessed major advances in our understanding of the architecture and function of epithelial tight junctions. While it has been long appreciated that microbes, notably bacterial and viral pathogens, target and disrupt junctional complexes and alter paracellular permeability, the precise mechanisms remain to be defined. Notably, renewed efforts will be required to interpret the available data on pathogenmediated barrier disruption in the context of the most recent findings on tight junction structure and function. While much of the focus has been on pathogen-induced dysregulation of junctional complexes, commensal microbiota and their products may influence paracellular permeability and contribute to the normal physiology of the gut. Finally, microbes and their products have become important tools in exploring host systems, including the junctional properties of epithelial cells.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physiology (medical)