The tight junction defines epithelial organization. Structurally, the tight junction is comprised of transmembrane and membrane-associated proteins that are thought to assemble into stable complexes to determine function. In this study, we measure tight junction protein dynamics in live confluent Madin-Darby canine kidney monolayers using fluorescence recovery after photobleaching and related methods. Mathematical modeling shows that the majority of claudin-1 (76 +/- 5%) is stably localized at the tight junction. In contrast, the majority of occludin (71 +/- 3%) diffuses rapidly within the tight junction with a diffusion constant of 0.011 microm(2)s(-1). Zonula occludens-1 molecules are also highly dynamic in this region, but, rather than diffusing within the plane of the membrane, 69 +/- 5% exchange between membrane and intracellular pools in an energy-dependent manner. These data demonstrate that the tight junction undergoes constant remodeling and suggest that this dynamic behavior may contribute to tight junction assembly and regulation.