Claudins are tetraspan transmembrane proteins of tight junctions. They determine the barrier properties of this type of cell-cell contact existing between the plasma membranes of two neighbouring cells, such as occurring in endothelia or epithelia. Claudins can completely tighten the paracellular cleft for solutes, and they can form paracellular ion pores. It is assumed that the extracellular loops specify these claudin functions. It is hypothesised that the larger first extracellular loop is critical for determining the paracellular tightness and the selective ion permeability. The shorter second extracellular loop may cause narrowing of the paracellular cleft and have a holding function between the opposing cell membranes. Sequence analysis of claudins has led to differentiation into two groups, designated as classic claudins (1-10, 14, 15, 17, 19) and non-classic claudins (11-13, 16, 18, 20-24), according to their degree of sequence similarity. This is also reflected in the derived sequence-structure function relationships for extracellular loops 1 and 2. The concepts evolved from these findings and first tentative molecular models for homophilic interactions may explain the different functional contribution of the two extracellular loops at tight junctions.