A fundamental function of epithelia and endothelia is to separate different compartments within the organism and to regulate the exchange of substances between them. The tight junction (TJ) constitutes the barrier both to the passage of ions and molecules through the paracellular pathway and to the movement of proteins and lipids between the apical and the basolateral domains of the plasma membrane. In recent years more than 40 different proteins have been discovered to be located at the TJs of epithelia, endothelia and myelinated cells. This unprecedented expansion of information has changed our view of TJs from merely a paracellular barrier to a complex structure involved in signaling cascades that control cell growth and differentiation. Both cortical and transmembrane proteins integrate TJs. Among the former are scaffolding proteins containing PDZ domains, tumor suppressors, transcription factors and proteins involved in vesicle transport. To date two components of the TJ filaments have been identified: occludin and claudin. The latter is a protein family with more than 20 members. Both occludin and claudins are integral proteins capable of interacting adhesively with complementary molecules on adjacent cells and of co-polymerizing laterally. These advancements in the knowledge of the molecular structure of TJ support previous physiological models that exhibited TJ as dynamic structures that present distinct permeability and morphological characteristics in different tissues and in response to changing natural, pathological or experimental conditions.