Measurement of paracellular epithelial conductivity by conductance scanning

Pflugers Arch. 1997 Nov;434(6):830-40. doi: 10.1007/s004240050472.


A new method, conductance scanning, allows determination of local para- and transcellular conductivities in flat epithelia. Experiments were performed on kidney distal tubule cells, MDCK clone C11, which form monolayers on permeable supports. Above the apical surface, local voltage drops generated by a sinusoidal current clamp were recorded by means of a scanning microelectrode. Data were collected above cell centres and tight junctions. The scanning signal was always significantly higher above the tight junctions, but was uniformly distributed along the junctions. For determination of conductivities two procedures were applied. Method 1: the supraepithelial potential distribution was computed for given trans- and paracellular currents at all positions of the electrode. In a fit algorithm, the currents were varied until the calculated potential difference equalled the voltage measured. Method 2: after collecting scanning data in control Ringer's, intercellular space width was reduced by mucosal addition of 40 mM sucrose and a second set of data was obtained at decreased paracellular, but presumably unchanged transcellular, conductivity. From these data, trans- and paracellular conductivities were calculated. Results of both methods were in excellent agreement. Confluent MDCK-C11 monolayers exhibited a transepithelial conductivity of 13 mS/cm2. The transcellular pathway contributed 2.6 mS/cm2 (20%) and the paracellular pathway 10. 5 mS/cm2 (80%) to the total conductivity. Collapse of the lateral intercellular spaces decreased the paracellular conductivity to 4 mS/cm2 (60%). Confluent MDCK-C11 monolayers constitute true "leaky" epithelia with homogeneously distributed trans- and paracellular conductivities. In conclusion, conductance scanning fills a methodical gap, which hitherto impeded the functional characterization of tight junctions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Dogs
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Electric Impedance
  • Electrophysiology / methods
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology
  • Kidney / cytology
  • Kidney / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Reference Values