The renal proximal tubule achieves the majority of renal water and solute reabsorption with the help of paracellular channels which lead through the tight junction. The proteins forming such channels in the proximal tubule are claudin-2, claudin-10a, and possibly claudin-17. Claudin-2 forms paracellular channels selective for small cations like Na+ and K+. Independently of each other, claudin-10a and claudin-17 form anion-selective channels. The claudins form the paracellular "pore pathway" and are integrated, together with purely sealing claudins and other tight junction proteins, in the belt of tight junction strands surrounding the tubular epithelial cells. In most species, the proximal tubular tight junction consists of only 1-2 (pars convoluta) to 3-5 (pars recta) horizontal strands. Even so, they seal the tubule very effectively against leak passage of nutrients and larger molecules. Remarkably, claudin-2 channels are also permeable to water so that 20-25% of proximal water absorption may occur paracellularly. Although the exact structure of the claudin-2 channel is still unknown, it is clear that Na+ and water share the same pore. Already solved claudin crystal structures reveal a characteristic β-sheet, comprising β-strands from both extracellular loops, which is anchored to a left-handed four-transmembrane helix bundle. This allowed homology modeling of channel-forming claudins present in the proximal tubule. The surface of cation- and anion-selective claudins differ in electrostatic potentials in the area of the proposed ion channel, resulting in the opposite charge selectivity of these claudins. Presently, while models of the molecular structure of the claudin-based oligomeric channels have been proposed, its full understanding has only started.
Keywords: Claudins; Freeze-fracture electron microscopy; Kidney; Molecular channel structure; Paracellular ion transport; Paracellular water transport.