The relationship of tight junction permeability to junction structure and composition was examined using two strains of Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells (I and II) which differ greater than 30-fold in transepithelial resistance. This parameter is largely determined by paracellular, and hence junctional, permeability under most conditions. When these two strains of cells were grown on permeable filter supports, they formed monolayers with equivalent linear amounts of junction/area of monolayer. Ultrastructural analysis of these monolayers by thin section EM revealed no differences in overall cellular morphology or in tight junction organization. Morphometric analysis of freeze-fractured preparations indicated that the tight junctions of these two cell strains were similar in both number and density of junctional fibrils. Prediction of transepithelial resistance for the two strains from this freeze-fracture data and a published structure-function formulation (Claude, P. 1978, J. Memb. Biol. 39:219-232) yielded values (I = 26.5 omega/cm2, II = 35.7 omega/cm2) that were significantly lower than those observed (I = 2,500-5,000 omega/cm2, II = 50-70 omega/cm2). Consistent with these structural studies, a comparison of the distribution and cellular content of ZO-1, a polypeptide localized exclusively to the tight junction, revealed no significant differences in either the localization of ZO-1 or the amount of ZO-1 per micron of junction (I = 1,415 +/- 101 molecules/micron, II = 1,514 +/- 215 molecules/micron).

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