Epithelial tissues form a selective barrier that separates the external environment from the internal tissue milieu. Single epithelial cells are densely packed and associate via distinct intercellular junctions. Intercellular junction proteins not only control barrier properties of the epithelium but also play an important role in regulating epithelial homeostasis that encompasses cell proliferation, migration, differentiation and regulated shedding. Recent studies have revealed that several proteases target epithelial junction proteins during physiological maturation as well as in pathologic states such as inflammation and cancer. This review discusses mechanisms and biological consequences of transmembrane junction protein cleavage. The influence of junction protein cleavage products on pathogenesis of inflammation and cancer is discussed.
Keywords: cancer; cleavage of junction proteins; epithelia; epithelial homeostasis; inflammatory bowel disease; intercellular junctions; mucosal inflammation; proteases; protein shedding; soluble junction protein ectodomains.