Tight junctions regulate paracellular conductance and ionic selectivity. These properties vary among epithelia but the molecular basis of this variation remains unknown. To test whether members of the claudin family of tight junction proteins influence paracellular ionic selectivity, we expressed human claudin-4 in cultured MDCK cells using an inducible promoter. Overexpression increased the complexity of tight junction strands visible by freeze-fracture microscopy without affecting the levels of claudin-1, -2, or -3, occludin, or ZO-1. A decrease in conductance correlated directly with the kinetics of claudin-4 induction. Dilution potentials revealed that the decrease in paracellular conductance resulted from a selective decrease in Na(+) permeability without a significant effect on Cl(-) permeability. Flux for an uncharged solute, mannitol, and the rank order of permeabilities for the alkali metal cations were unchanged. A paracellular site for these effects was supported by the lack of apical/basal directionality of the dilution potentials, the linearity of current-voltage relationships, and the lack of influence of inhibitors of major transcellular transporters. These results provide, to our knowledge, the first direct demonstration of the ability of a claudin to influence paracellular ion selectivity and support a role for the claudins in creating selective channels through the tight-junction barrier.