NHERF1 and CFTR restore tight junction organisation and function in cystic fibrosis airway epithelial cells: role of ezrin and the RhoA/ROCK pathway

Lab Invest. 2012 Nov;92(11):1527-40. doi: 10.1038/labinvest.2012.123. Epub 2012 Sep 10.


Tight junctions (TJs) restrict the transit of ions and molecules through the paracellular route and act as a barrier to regulate access of inflammatory cells into the airway lumen. The pathophysiology of cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease is characterised by abnormal ion and fluid transport across the epithelium and polymorphonuclear (PMN) leukocyte-dominated inflammatory response. Na⁺/H⁺ exchanger regulatory factor 1 (NHERF1) is a protein involved in PKA-dependent activation of CFTR by interacting with CFTR via its PDZ domains and with ezrin via its C-terminal domain. We have previously found that the NHERF1-overexpression dependent rescue CFTR-dependent chloride secretion is due to the re-organisation of the actin cytoskeleton network induced by the formation of the multiprotein complex NHERF1-RhoA-ezrin-actin. In this context, we here studied whether NHERF1 and CFTR are involved in the organisation and function of TJs. F508del CFBE41o⁻ monolayers presented nuclear localisation of zonula occludens (ZO-1) and occludin as well as disorganisation of claudin 1 and junction-associated adhesion molecule 1 as compared with wild-type 16HBE14o⁻ monolayers, paralleled by increased permeability to dextrans and PMN transmigration. Overexpression of either NHERF1 or CFTR in CFBE41o⁻ cells rescued TJ proteins to their proper intercellular location and decreased permeability and PMN transmigration, while this effect was not achieved by overexpressing either NHERF1 deprived of ezrin-binding domain. Further, expression of a phospho-dead ezrin mutant, T567A, increased permeability in both 16HBE14o⁻ cells and in a CFBE clone stably overexpressing NHERF1 (CFBE/sNHERF1), whereas a constitutively active form of ezrin, T567D, achieved the opposite effect in CFBE41o⁻ cells. A dominant-negative form of RhoA (RhoA-N19) also disrupted ZO-1 localisation at the intercellular contacts dislodging it to the nucleus and increased permeability in CFBE/sNHERF1. The inhibitor Y27632 of Rho kinase (ROCK) increased permeability as well. Overall, these data suggest a significant role for the multiprotein complex CFTR-NHERF1-ezrin-actin in maintaining TJ organisation and barrier function, and suggest that the RhoA/ROCK pathway is involved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cystic Fibrosis / metabolism*
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator / metabolism*
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Phosphoproteins / metabolism*
  • Respiratory Mucosa / cytology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Sodium-Hydrogen Exchangers / metabolism*
  • Tight Junction Proteins / metabolism
  • Tight Junctions / metabolism*
  • rho-Associated Kinases / metabolism
  • rhoA GTP-Binding Protein / metabolism


  • CFTR protein, human
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Phosphoproteins
  • Sodium-Hydrogen Exchangers
  • Tight Junction Proteins
  • ezrin
  • sodium-hydrogen exchanger regulatory factor
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator
  • rho-Associated Kinases
  • rhoA GTP-Binding Protein