An Experimental Workflow for Studying Barrier Integrity, Permeability, and Tight Junction Composition and Localization in a Single Endothelial Cell Monolayer: Proof of Concept

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jul 30;22(15):8178. doi: 10.3390/ijms22158178.


Endothelial and epithelial barrier function is crucial for the maintenance of physiological processes. The barrier paracellular permeability depends on the composition and spatial distribution of the cell-to-cell tight junctions (TJ). Here, we provide an experimental workflow that yields several layers of physiological data in the setting of a single endothelial cell monolayer. Human umbilical vein endothelial cells were grown on Transwell filters. Transendothelial electrical resistance (TER) and 10 kDa FITC dextran flux were measured using Alanyl-Glutamine (AlaGln) as a paracellular barrier modulator. Single monolayers were immunolabelled for Zonula Occludens-1 (ZO-1) and Claudin-5 (CLDN5) and used for automated immunofluorescence imaging. Finally, the same monolayers were used for single molecule localization microscopy (SMLM) of ZO-1 and CLDN5 at the nanoscale for spatial clustering analysis. The TER increased and the paracellular dextran flux decreased after the application of AlaGln and these functional changes of the monolayer were mediated by an increase in the ZO-1 and CLDN5 abundance in the cell-cell interface. At the nanoscale level, the functional and protein abundance data were accompanied by non-random increased clustering of CLDN5. Our experimental workflow provides multiple data from a single monolayer and has wide applicability in the setting of paracellular studies in endothelia and epithelia.

Keywords: Alanyl-Glutamine; Transwell; Zonula Occludens-1; automated immunofluorescence imaging; cell monolayer; claudins; endothelial cells; paracellular permeability; single molecule localization microscopy; tight junctions.

MeSH terms

  • Capillary Permeability*
  • Claudin-5 / metabolism
  • Dextrans / metabolism
  • Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Tight Junctions / metabolism*
  • Zonula Occludens-1 Protein / metabolism


  • Claudin-5
  • Dextrans
  • Zonula Occludens-1 Protein