In terrestrial animals, the epidermal barrier transitions from covering an organism suspended in a liquid environment in utero, to protecting a terrestrial animal postnatally from air and environmental exposure. Tight junctions (TJ) are essential for establishing the epidermal permeability barrier during embryonic development and modulate normal epidermal development and barrier functions postnatally. We now report that TJ function, as well as claudin-1 and occludin expression, change in parallel during late epidermal development. Specifically, TJ block the paracellular movement of Lanthanum (La(3+)) early in rat in vivo prenatal epidermal development, at gestational days 18-19, with concurrent upregulation of claudin-1 and occludin. TJ then become more permeable to ions and water as the fetus approaches parturition, concomitant with development of the lipid epidermal permeability barrier, at days 20-21. This sequence is recapitulated in cultured human epidermal equivalents (HEE), as assessed both by ultrastructural studies comparing permeation of large and small molecules and by the standard electrophysiologic parameter of resistance (R), suggesting further that this pattern of development is intrinsic to mammalian epidermal development. These findings demonstrate that the role of TJ changes during epidermal development, and further suggest that the TJ-based and lipid-based epidermal permeability barriers are interdependent.
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons A/S.