Tight junctions as targets of infectious agents

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Apr;1788(4):832-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2008.10.028. Epub 2008 Nov 14.


The epithelial barrier is a critical border that segregates luminal material from entering tissues. Essential components of this epithelial fence are physical intercellular structures termed tight junctions. These junctions use a variety of transmembrane proteins coupled with cytoplasmic adaptors, and the actin cytoskeleton, to attach adjacent cells together thereby forming intercellular seals. Breaching of this barrier has profound effects on human health and disease, as barrier deficiencies have been linked with the onset of inflammation, diarrhea generation and pathogenic effects. Although tight junctions efficiently restrict most microbes from penetrating into deeper tissues and contain the microbiota, some pathogens have developed specific strategies to alter or disrupt these structures as part of their pathogenesis, resulting in either pathogen penetration, or other consequences such as diarrhea. Understanding the strategies that microorganisms use to commandeer the functions of tight junctions is an active area of research in microbial pathogenesis. In this review we highlight and overview the tactics bacteria and viruses use to alter tight junctions during disease. Additionally, these studies have identified novel tight junction protein functions by using pathogens and their virulence factors as tools to study the cell biology of junctional structures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoviridae / pathogenicity
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Cholera Toxin / physiology
  • Clostridium perfringens / pathogenicity
  • Enterovirus / pathogenicity
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / pathogenicity
  • Haptoglobins
  • Helicobacter pylori / pathogenicity
  • Hepacivirus / pathogenicity
  • Humans
  • Protein Precursors
  • Reoviridae / pathogenicity
  • Rotavirus / pathogenicity
  • Salmonella / pathogenicity
  • Shigella flexneri / pathogenicity
  • Tight Junctions / physiology*
  • Viruses / pathogenicity*


  • Haptoglobins
  • Protein Precursors
  • zonulin
  • Cholera Toxin