Using freeze-fracture techniques, we have examined the morpholog of tight junction networks found along the length of the alimentary tract of Xenopus laevis before and after metamorphosis. We have developed the hypothesis, based on these observations, that the geometrical organization of the network determined by the stress-induced shape changes normally experienced by the cells linked by the network. Consistent with this theory, tight junctions can be classified into two distinct types of network organization which differ in their response normal and experimentally induced stress conditions: (a) loosely interconnected networks which can stretch or compress extensively under tension, thereby adapting to stress changes in the tissue; and (b) evenly cross-linked networks which retain their basic morphology under normal stress conditions. The absorptive cells of the large intestine as well as the mucous cells of the gastrointestine or stomach are sealed by the first, flexible type of tight junction. The second type of junctional organization, the evenly cross-connected network, is found between absorptive cells of the small intestine and ciliated cells of the esophagus, and reflects in its constant morphology the relative stability of the apical region of both of these cell types. Networks intermediate between these two types arise when a cell which would normally form a lossely interconnected network borders a cell which tends to form a more evenly cross-linked network, as is found in the esophagus where ciliated and goblet cells adjoin. Despite the change in the animal's diet during metamorphosis from herbivorous to carnivorous, the basic gemetrical organization of the networks associated with each tissue of the alimentary tract remains the same.

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