Altered tight junction structure contributes to the impaired epithelial barrier function in ulcerative colitis

Gastroenterology. 1999 Feb;116(2):301-9. doi: 10.1016/s0016-5085(99)70126-5.


Background & aims: Mechanisms of diarrhea in ulcerative colitis (UC) are still unknown. Functional and structural characterization of epithelial barrier and transport properties in ulcerative colitis (UC) was performed.

Methods: Inflamed sigmoid colon epithelium from UC patients was studied by alternating current impedance analysis to determine the pure epithelial resistance as a measure of intestinal barrier function. Tight junction (TJ) structure was investigated by freeze-fracture electron microscopy.

Results: Although total wall resistance was reduced in UC by 50%, impedance analysis uncovered a much more pronounced barrier defect. Epithelial resistance decreased from 95 +/- 5 to 20 +/- 3 omega3. cm2, which in conventional analysis is masked by an increase in subepithelial resistance from 14 +/- 1 to 36 +/- 3 omega3. cm2 caused by inflammation. This was paralleled by a change in epithelial cell TJ structure in UC. Strand count decreased from 6.94 +/- 0.25 to 4.76 +/- 0.47 at the surface and from 7.26 +/- 0.31 to 5.46 +/- 0.37 in the crypts.

Conclusions: The inflamed colonic mucosa in UC has an impaired barrier function that is much more pronounced than previously assumed. An altered TJ structure contributes to this barrier defect which, because of increased back leak, can reduce net ion transport. Thus, a leak-flux mechanism contributes to the diarrhea in UC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chloride Channels / metabolism
  • Chlorides / metabolism
  • Colectomy
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / metabolism*
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / pathology*
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / surgery
  • Electric Impedance
  • Epithelium
  • Freeze Fracturing
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology
  • Microscopy, Electron


  • Chloride Channels
  • Chlorides