The mechanism by which epithelial and endothelial cells interact to form polarized tissue is of fundamental importance to multicellular organisms. Dysregulation of these barriers occurs in a variety of diseases, destroying the normal cellular environments and leading to organ failure. Increased levels of growth factors are a common characteristic of diseases exhibiting tissue permeability, suggesting that growth factors play a direct role in elevating permeability. Of particular concern for this laboratory, increased expression of vascular endothelial growth factor may enhance vascular permeability in diabetic retinopathy, leading to vision impairment and blindness. However, the mechanism by which growth factors increase permeability is unclear. Polarized cells form strong barriers through the development of tight junctions, which are specialized regions of the junctional complex. Tight junctions are composed of three types of transmembrane proteins, a number of peripheral membrane structural proteins, and are associated with a variety of regulatory proteins. Recent data suggest that growth factor-stimulated alterations in tight junctions contribute to permeability in a variety of disease states. The goal of this review was to elucidate potential mechanisms by which elevated growth factors elicit deregulated paracellular permeability via altered regulation of tight junctions, with particular emphasis on the tight junction proteins occludin and ZO-1, protein kinase C signaling, and endocytosis of junctional proteins. Understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying growth factor-mediated regulation of tight junctions will facilitate the development of novel treatments for diseases such as brain tumors, diabetic retinopathy and other diseases with compromised tight junction barriers.