Epithelial tight junctions in intestinal inflammation

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 May:1165:294-300. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04062.x.


The epithelium in inflamed intestinal segments of patients with Crohn's disease is characterized by a reduction of tight junction strands, strand breaks, and alterations of tight junction protein content and composition. In ulcerative colitis, epithelial leaks appear early due to micro-erosions resulting from upregulated epithelial apoptosis and in addition to a prominent increase of claudin-2. Th1-cytokine effects by interferon-gamma in combination with TNFalpha are important for epithelial damage in Crohn's disease, while interleukin-13 (IL-13) is the key effector cytokine in ulcerative colitis stimulating apoptosis and upregulation of claudin-2 expression. Focal lesions caused by apoptotic epithelial cells contribute to barrier disturbance in IBD by their own conductivity and by confluence toward apoptotic foci or erosions. Another type of intestinal barrier defect can arise from alpha-hemolysin harboring E. coli strains among the physiological flora, which can gain pathologic relevance in combination with proinflammatory cytokines under inflammatory conditions. On the other hand, intestinal barrier impairment can also result from transcellular antigen translocation via an initial endocytotic uptake into early endosomes, and this is intensified by proinflammatory cytokines as interferon-gamma and may thus play a relevant role in the onset of IBD. Taken together, barrier defects contribute to diarrhea by a leak flux mechanism (e.g., in IBD) and can cause mucosal inflammation by luminal antigen uptake. Immune regulation of epithelial functions by cytokines may cause barrier dysfunction not only by tight junction impairments but also by apoptotic leaks, transcytotic mechanisms, and mucosal gross lesions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / metabolism
  • Crohn Disease / metabolism
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / metabolism*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / pathology
  • Interleukin-13 / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology
  • Tight Junctions / metabolism*


  • Interleukin-13