Role of tight junctions in establishing and maintaining cell polarity

Annu Rev Physiol. 1998;60:161-77. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physiol.60.1.161.


The tight junction (TJ) is not randomly located on the cell membrane, but occupies a precise position at the outermost edge of the intercellular space and, therefore, is itself considered a polarized structure. This article reviews the most common experimental approaches for studying this relationship. We then discuss three main topics. (a) The mechanisms of polarization that operate regardless of the presence of TJs: We explore a variety of polarization mechanisms that operate at stages of the cell cycle in which TJs may be already established. (b) TJs and polarity as partners in highly dynamic processes: Polarity and TJs are steady state situations that may be drastically changed by a variety of signaling events. (c) Polarized distribution of membrane molecules that depend on TJs: This refers to molecules (mainly lipids) whose polarized distribution, although not the direct result of TJs, depends on these structures to maintain such distribution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Cell Polarity / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Tight Junctions / physiology*