Na,K-ATPase activity is required for formation of tight junctions, desmosomes, and induction of polarity in epithelial cells

Mol Biol Cell. 2001 Dec;12(12):3717-32. doi: 10.1091/mbc.12.12.3717.


Na,K-ATPase is a key enzyme that regulates a variety of transport functions in epithelial cells. In this study, we demonstrate a role for Na,K-ATPase in the formation of tight junctions, desmosomes, and epithelial polarity with the use of the calcium switch model in Madin-Darby canine kidney cells. Inhibition of Na,K-ATPase either by ouabain or potassium depletion prevented the formation of tight junctions and desmosomes and the cells remained nonpolarized. The formation of bundled stress fibers that appeared transiently in control cells was largely inhibited in ouabain-treated or potassium-depleted cells. Failure to form stress fibers correlated with a large reduction of RhoA GTPase activity in Na,K-ATPase-inhibited cells. In cells overexpressing wild-type RhoA GTPase, Na,K-ATPase inhibition did not affect the formation of stress fibers, tight junctions, or desmosomes, and epithelial polarity developed normally, suggesting that RhoA GTPase is an essential component downstream of Na,K-ATPase-mediated regulation of these junctions. The effects of Na,K-ATPase inhibition were mimicked by treatment with the sodium ionophore gramicidin and were correlated with the increased intracellular sodium levels. Furthermore, ouabain treatment under sodium-free condition did not affect the formation of junctions and epithelial polarity, suggesting that the intracellular Na(+) homeostasis plays a crucial role in generation of the polarized phenotype of epithelial cells. These results thus demonstrate that the Na,K-ATPase activity plays an important role in regulating both the structure and function of polarized epithelial cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cadherins / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Polarity* / drug effects
  • Desmosomes / metabolism*
  • Dogs
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology*
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects
  • Epithelial Cells / enzymology*
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Gramicidin / pharmacology
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Models, Biological
  • Ouabain / pharmacology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Sodium / metabolism
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase / metabolism*
  • Stress Fibers / metabolism
  • Tight Junctions / metabolism*
  • rhoA GTP-Binding Protein / genetics
  • rhoA GTP-Binding Protein / metabolism


  • Cadherins
  • Gramicidin
  • Ouabain
  • Sodium
  • rhoA GTP-Binding Protein
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase