We previously identified a 220-kD constitutive protein of the plasma membrane undercoat which colocalizes at the immunofluorescence microscopic level with cadherins and occurs not only in epithelial M., S. Yonemura, A. Nagafuchi, Sa. Tsukita, and Sh. Tsukita. 1991. J. Cell Biol. 115:1449-1462). To clarify the nature and possible functions of this protein, we cloned its full-length cDNA and sequenced it. Unexpectedly, we found mouse 220-kD protein to be highly homologous to rat protein ZO-1, only a part of which had been already sequenced. This relationship was confirmed by immunoblotting with anti-ZO-1 antibody. As protein ZO-1 was originally identified as a component exclusively underlying tight junctions in epithelial cells, where cadherins are not believed to be localized, we analyzed the distribution of cadherins and the 220-kD protein by ultrathin cryosection immunoelectron microscopy. We found that in non-epithelial cells lacking tight junctions cadherins and the 220-kD protein colocalize, whereas in epithelial cells (e.g., intestinal epithelial cells) bearing well-developed tight junctions cadherins and the 220-kD protein are clearly segregated into adherens and tight junctions, respectively. Interestingly, in epithelial cells such as hepatocytes, which tight junctions are not so well developed, the 220-kD protein is detected not only in the tight junction zone but also at adherens junctions. Furthermore, we show in mouse L cells transfected with cDNAs encoding N-, P-, E-cadherins that cadherins interact directly or indirectly with the 220-kD protein. Possible functions of the 220-kD protein (ZO-1) are discussed with special reference to the molecular mechanism for adherens and tight junction formation.

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