Tight junction biology and kidney dysfunction

Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2006 Jan;290(1):F20-34. doi: 10.1152/ajprenal.00052.2005.


The epithelial tight junction (TJ) has three major functions. As a "gate," it serves as a regulatory barrier separating and maintaining biological fluid compartments of different composition. As a "fence," it generates and maintains the apicobasal polarity of cells that form the confluent epithelium. Finally, the TJ proteins form a trafficking and signaling platform that regulates cell growth, proliferation, differentiation, and dedifferentiation. Six examples are selected that illustrate the emerging link between TJ dysfunction and kidney disease. First, the glomerular slit diaphragm (GSD) is evolved, in part, from the TJ and, on maturation, exhibits all three functions of the TJ. GSD dysfunction leads to proteinuria and, in some instances, podocyte dedifferentiation and proliferation. Second, accumulating evidence supports epithelial-mesenchymal transformation (EMT) as a major player in renal fibrosis, the final common pathway that leads to end-stage renal failure. EMT is characterized by a loss of cell-cell contact and apicobasal polarity, which are hallmarks of TJ dysfunction. Third, in autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease, mutations of the polycystins may disrupt their known interactions with the apical junction complex, of which the TJ is a major component. This can lead to disturbances in epithelial polarity regulation with consequent abnormal tubulogenesis and cyst formation. Fourth, evidence for epithelial barrier and polarity dysregulation in the pathogenesis of ischemic acute renal failure will be summarized. Fifth, the association between mutations of paracellin-1, the first TJ channel identified, and clinical disorders of magnesium and calcium wasting and bovine renal fibrosis will be used to highlight an integral TJ protein that can serve multiple TJ functions. Finally, the role of WNK4 protein kinase in shunting chloride across the TJ of the distal nephron will be addressed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Claudins
  • Fibrosis / etiology
  • Humans
  • Kidney Diseases / pathology
  • Kidney Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Kidney Glomerulus / pathology
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Podocytes / pathology
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / physiology
  • Proteinuria / etiology
  • Proteinuria / pathology
  • TRPP Cation Channels / metabolism
  • Tight Junctions / pathology
  • Tight Junctions / physiology*


  • Claudins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • TRPP Cation Channels
  • claudin 16
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • WNK4 protein, human
  • claudin 6