Tight junctions (TJs) firmly seal epithelial cells and are key players in the epithelial barrier. TJs consist of several proteins, including those of the transmembrane claudin family and the scaffold zonula occludens (ZO) family. Epithelial tissues are exposed to different conditions: to air in the stratified epithelium of the skin and to liquids in the monolayer of the intestine. The TJs in stratified oral mucosal epithelium have remained insufficiently elucidated in terms of distributions, appearances and barrier functions of TJ proteins in normal buccal mucosa. We investigated these and ZO-1 and claudin-1 were found to be expressed in the top third and in the bottom three quarters of the mucosal epithelium. ZO-1 in the buccal mucosa was found to have an irregular linear appearance. ZO-1 in the buccal mucosa continuously existed in several layers. Electron microscopy revealed the buccal mucosa to have kissing points. In a biotin permeation assay that sought to investigate inside-outside barrier function, the biotin tracer penetrated several ZO-1 layers but did not pass through all the ZO-1 layers. We found that the oral mucosal cell knockdown of TJP1 or CLDN1 resulted in decreases of TER but no significant change in FITC-dextran leakage. Our results suggest that the distribution and appearance of ZO-1 in the buccal mucosa differ from those in the skin. We were unable to prove barrier function in this study but we did show barrier function against small molecules in vivo and against ions in vitro.
Keywords: Barrier function; Buccal mucosa; Claudin-1; Distribution; Tight junction; Zonula occludens-1.