Apparently conflicting observations indicated that protein kinase C both may block and support the assembly of tight junctions. We therefore tested the hypothesis that different isoenzymes antagonistically affect tight junction proteins and function. Thus, by using specific inhibitors we investigated the involvement of conventional and novel protein kinase C of kidney tubule cells in tight junction assembly. In low Ca2+ medium, the application of pan-protein kinase C inhibitor GF-109203X blocked the formation of tight junctions induced by protein kinase C agonist diacyglycerol. Gö6976, inhibitor of conventional protein kinase C, promoted the formation of tight junctions and occludin phosphorylation in cells cultivated in low Ca2+ medium and attenuated the disruption of tight junction complex induced by the switch to low Ca2+ medium. In addition, Gö6976 accelerated the occludin phosphorylation and the formation of tight junction barrier during assembly of tight junctions induced by Ca2+ re-addition. This phosphorylation was accompanied by accelerated occludin incorporation into newly forming tight junctions and by reducing the paracellular permeability. In contrast, inhibitor of novel protein kinase C rottlerin blocked the occludin phosphorylation and the formation of tight junction barrier, both caused by re-addition of normal Ca2+ medium. It is concluded that the conventional protein kinase C alpha participates in tight junction disassembly while the novel protein kinase C epsilon plays a role in tight junction formation of kidney epithelial cells. The discovered antagonism contributes to a better understanding of the regulation of the structure and function of tight junctions and hence to that of the epithelial barrier.