The paracellular barrier of epithelia and endothelia is established by several tight junction proteins including claudin-3. Although claudin-3 is present in many epithelia including skin, lung, kidney, and intestine and in endothelia, its function is unresolved as yet. We therefore characterized claudin-3 by stable transfection of MDCK II kidney tubule cells with human claudin-3 cDNA. Two clone systems were analyzed, exhibiting high or low claudin-2 expression, respectively. Expression of other claudins was unchanged. Ultrastructurally, tight junction strands were changed toward uninterrupted and rounded meshwork loops. Functionally, the paracellular resistance of claudin-3-transfected monolayers was strongly elevated, causing an increase in transepithelial resistance compared to vector controls. Permeabilities for mono- and divalent cations and for anions were decreased. In the high-claudin-2 system, claudin-3 reduced claudin-2-induced cation selectivity, while in the low-claudin-2 system no charge preference was observed, the latter thus reflecting the "intrinsic" action of claudin-3. Furthermore, the passage of the paracellular tracers fluorescein (332Da) and FD-4 (4kDa) was decreased, whereas the permeability to water was not affected. We demonstrate that claudin-3 alters the tight junction meshwork and seals the paracellular pathway against the passage of small ions of either charge and uncharged solutes. Thus, in a kidney model epithelium, claudin-3 acts as a general barrier-forming protein.
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