ER Stress Induced by ER Calcium Depletion and UVB Irradiation Regulates Tight Junction Barrier Integrity in Human Keratinocytes

J Dermatol Sci. 2020 Apr;98(1):41-49. doi: 10.1016/j.jdermsci.2020.02.006. Epub 2020 Feb 21.


Background: Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) calcium depletion-induced ER stress is a crucial signal for keratinocyte differentiation and barrier homeostasis, but its effects on the epidermal tight junction (TJ) have not been characterized. Ultraviolet B (UVB) causes ER calcium release in keratinocytes and disrupts epidermal TJ, however, the involvement of ER stress in the UVB-induced TJ alterations remains unknown.

Objectives: To investigate the effect of ER stress by pharmacological ER calcium depletion or UVB on the TJ integrity in normal human epidermal keratinocytes (NHEK).

Methods: NHEK were exposed to ER calcium pump inhibitor thapsigargin (Tg) or UVB. ER stress markers and TJ molecules expression, TJ and F-actin structures, and TJ barrier function were analyzed.

Results: Tg or UVB exposure dose-dependently triggered unfolded protein response (UPR) in NHEK. Low dose Tg induced the IRE1α-XBP1 pathway and strengthened TJ barrier. Contrary, high dose Tg activated PERK phosphorylation and disrupted TJ by F-actin disorganization. UVB disrupted TJ and F-actin structures dose dependently. IRE1α RNase inhibition induced or exacerbated TJ and F-actin disruption in the presence of low dose Tg or UVB. High dose Tg increased RhoA activity. 4-PBA or Rho kinase (ROCK) inhibitor partially prevented the disruption of TJ and F-actin following high dose Tg or UVB.

Conclusions: ER stress has bimodal effects on the epidermal TJ depending on its intensity. The IRE1α pathway is critical for the maintenance of TJ integrity during mild ER stress. Severe ER stress-induced UPR or ROCK signalling mediates the disruption of TJ through cytoskeletal disorganization during severe ER stress.

Keywords: Bimodal effects; ER stress; Rho kinase; Tight junction; Ultraviolet B; Unfolded protein response.