Altered expression of epithelial junctional proteins in atopic asthma: possible role in inflammation

Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2008 Mar;86(3):105-12. doi: 10.1139/y08-004.


Epithelial cells form a tight barrier against environmental stimuli via tight junctions (TJs) and adherence junctions (AJs). Defects in TJ and AJ proteins may cause changes in epithelial morphology and integrity and potentially lead to faster trafficking of inflammatory cells through the epithelium. Bronchial epithelial fragility has been reported in asthmatic patients, but little is known about the expression of TJ and AJ proteins in asthma. We studied epithelial expression of zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1) and AJ proteins E-cadherin, alpha-catenin, and beta-catenin in bronchial biopsies from nonatopic nonasthmatic (healthy) subjects (n = 14), and stable atopic asthmatic subjects (n = 22) at baseline conditions. Immunostaining for these proteins was semi-quantified for separate cellular compartments. E-cadherin, alpha-catenin and beta-catenin were present in the cellular membrane and less in the cytoplasm. Only beta-catenin was present in the nucleus in agreement with its potential function as transcription factor. ZO-1 was present in the apicolateral membrane of superficial cells. alpha-Catenin expression was significantly lower in subjects with asthma than without and correlated inversely with numbers of eosinophils within the epithelium. ZO-1 and E-cadherin expression were significantly lower in asthmatic than in nonasthmatic subjects. Expression of beta-catenin was not different. Our results suggest that the lower epithelial alpha-catenin, E-cadherin and (or) ZO-1 expression in patients with atopic asthma contributes to a defective airway epithelial barrier and a higher influx of eosinophils in the epithelium.

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / metabolism*
  • Asthma / pathology
  • Bronchi / chemistry
  • Bronchi / pathology
  • Cadherins / biosynthesis*
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / biosynthesis
  • Eosinophils / chemistry
  • Eosinophils / pathology
  • Epithelial Attachment / chemistry*
  • Epithelial Attachment / pathology
  • Epithelial Cells / chemistry
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Intercellular Junctions / chemistry
  • Intercellular Junctions / pathology
  • Membrane Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Mucous Membrane / chemistry
  • Mucous Membrane / pathology
  • Phosphoproteins / biosynthesis*
  • Zonula Occludens-1 Protein
  • alpha Catenin / biosynthesis*
  • beta Catenin / biosynthesis*


  • Cadherins
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Phosphoproteins
  • TJP1 protein, human
  • Zonula Occludens-1 Protein
  • alpha Catenin
  • beta Catenin