Tight Junctions as Targets and Effectors of Mucosal Immune Homeostasis

Cell Mol Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2020;10(2):327-340. doi: 10.1016/j.jcmgh.2020.04.001. Epub 2020 Apr 15.


Defective epithelial barrier function is present in maladies including epidermal burn injury, environmental lung damage, renal tubular disease, and a range of immune-mediated and infectious intestinal disorders. When the epithelial surface is intact, the paracellular pathway between cells is sealed by the tight junction. However, permeability of tight junctions varies widely across tissues and can be markedly impacted by disease. For example, tight junctions within the skin and urinary bladder are largely impermeant and their permeability is not regulated. In contrast, tight junctions of the proximal renal tubule and intestine are selectively permeable to water and solutes on the basis of their biophysical characteristics and, in the gut, can be regulated by the immune system with remarkable specificity. Conversely, modulation of tight junction barrier conductance, especially within the gastrointestinal tract, can impact immune homeostasis and diverse pathologies. Thus, tight junctions are both effectors and targets of immune regulation. Using the gastrointestinal tract as an example, this review explores current understanding of this complex interplay between tight junctions and immunity.

Keywords: Barrier; Claudin; Enteric Infection; Graft-Versus-Host Disease; Inflammatory Bowel Disease; Intestinal Permeability; Leak Pathway; Myosin Light Chain Kinase; Pore Pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Homeostasis / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Mucosal*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / cytology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal
  • Permeability
  • Tight Junctions / physiology*