Tight junctions (TJs) establish the epithelial barrier and are thought to form a membrane fence to regulate epithelial polarity, although the roles of TJs in epithelial polarity remain controversial. Claudins constitute TJ strands in conjunction with the cytoplasmic scaffolds ZO-1 and ZO-2 and play pivotal roles in epithelial barrier formation. However, how claudins and other TJ membrane proteins cooperate to organize TJs remains unclear. Here, we systematically knocked out TJ components by genome editing and show that while ZO-1/ZO-2–deficient cells lacked TJ structures and epithelial barriers, claudin-deficient cells lacked TJ strands and an electrolyte permeability barrier but formed membrane appositions and a macromolecule permeability barrier. Moreover, epithelial polarity was disorganized in ZO-1/ZO-2–deficient cells, but not in claudin-deficient cells. Simultaneous deletion of claudins and a TJ membrane protein JAM-A resulted in a loss of membrane appositions and a macromolecule permeability barrier and in sporadic epithelial polarity defects. These results demonstrate that claudins and JAM-A coordinately regulate TJ formation and epithelial polarity.

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