Regulation of intercellular tight junctions by zonula occludens toxin and its eukaryotic analogue zonulin

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2000;915:214-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2000.tb05244.x.


The intestinal epithelium represents the largest interface between the external environment and the internal host milieu and constitutes the major barrier through which molecules can either be absorbed or secreted. There is now substantial evidence that tight junctions (tj) play a major role in regulating epithelial permeability by influencing paracellular flow of fluid and solutes. Tj are one of the hallmarks of absorptive and secretory epithelia. Evidence now exists that tj are dynamic rather than static structures and readily adapt to a variety of developmental, physiological, and pathological circumstances. These adaptive mechanisms are still incompletely understood. Activation of PKC either by Zonula occludens toxin (Zot) or by phorbol esters increases paracellular permeability. Alteration of epithelial tj is a recently described property for infectious agents. Clostridium difficile toxin A and B and influenza and vesicular stomatitis viruses have been shown to loosen tj in tissue culture monolayers. Unlike what occurs after the Zot stimulus, these changes appear to be irreversible and are associated with destruction of the tj complex. On the basis of this observation, we postulated that Zot may mimic the effect of a functionally and immunologically related endogenous modulator of epithelial tj. We were able to identify an intestinal Zot analogue, which we named zonulin. It is conceivable that the zonulins participate in the physiological regulation of intercellular tj not only in the small intestine, but also throughout a wide range of extraintestinal epithelia as well as the ubiquitous vascular endothelium, including the blood-brain barrier. Disregulation of this hypothetical zonulin model may contribute to disease states that involve disordered intercellular communication, including developmental and intestinal disorders, tissue inflammation, malignant transformation, and metastasis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cholera Toxin / metabolism*
  • Endotoxins
  • Eukaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Haptoglobins
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / cytology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Protein Precursors
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Tight Junctions / metabolism*


  • Endotoxins
  • Haptoglobins
  • Protein Precursors
  • zonulin
  • zonula occludens toxin, Vibrio cholerae
  • Cholera Toxin