Tight junctions regulate paracellular permeability size and charge selectively. Models have been proposed for the molecular architecture of tight junction strands and paracellular channels. However, they are not fully consistent with experimental and structural data. Here, we analysed the architecture of claudin-based tight junction strands and channels by cellular reconstitution of strands, structure-guided mutagenesis, in silico protein docking and oligomer modelling. Prototypic channel- (Cldn10b) and barrier-forming (Cldn3) claudins were analysed. Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) assays indicated multistep claudin polymerisation, starting with cis-oligomerization specific to the claudin subtype, followed by trans-interaction-triggered cis-polymerisation. Alternative protomer interfaces were modelled in silico and tested by cysteine-mediated crosslinking, confocal- and freeze fracture EM-based analysis of strand formation. The analysed claudin mutants included also mutations causing the HELIX syndrome. The results indicated that protomers in Cldn10b and Cldn3 strands form similar antiparallel double rows, as has been suggested for Cldn15. Mutually stabilising -hydrophilic and hydrophobic - cis- and trans-interfaces were identified that contained novel key residues of extracellular segments ECS1 and ECS2. Hydrophobic clustering of the flexible ECS1 β1β2 loops together with ECS2-ECS2 trans-interaction is suggested to be the driving force for conjunction of tetrameric building blocks into claudin polymers. Cldn10b and Cldn3 are indicated to share this polymerisation mechanism. However, in the paracellular centre of tetramers, electrostatic repulsion may lead to formation of pores (Cldn10b) and electrostatic attraction to barriers (Cldn3). Combining in vitro data and in silico modelling, this study improves mechanistic understanding of paracellular permeability regulation by elucidating claudin assembly and its pathologic alteration as in HELIX syndrome.
Keywords: barrier; modelling; oligomerisation; paracellular permeability; pore.
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