Cell junctions have been investigated in the amphibian epidermis, a stratified squamous epithelium, and compared to those described previously in simple columnar epithelia of mammalian cavitary organs.
In adult frogs and toads, and in larvae approaching metamorphosis, belts of membrane fusion or zonulae occludentes of considerable depth are regularly found between adjoining cells of the outermost layer of the stratum corneum, binding the cells together into a continuous, uninterrupted sheet. Another set of occluding zonules appears in the second cornified layer (when such a layer is present), and a third set usually occurs in the outermost layer of the stratum granulosum. Specialized elements described as "modified" and "composite" desmosomes are encountered along the lateral and basal aspects, respectively, of the cornified cells; ordinary desmosomes and maculae occludentes (i.e., spots of membrane fusion) are found in all other strata. The usual 200 A intercellular gap is generally maintained between the cells of the stratum germinativum at the basal ends of the intercellular spaces. Hence, the intercellular spaces of the epidermis form a largely continuous network, closed to the external medium and open to the dermal interstitia. The situation is comparable to that found in columnar epithelia, except that the intercellular spaces are much more extensive, and an extracellular subcompartment (or two) apparently exists in the stratum corneum and between the latter and the stratum granulosum. The last subcompartment is usually filled with a dense substance, probably derived from discharged secretory granules. The tripartite junctional complex characteristic of lumen-lining epithelia (i.e., a zonula occludens followed by a zonula adhaerens, and desmosome) is seen only in early larvae; in adults and in larvae approaching metamorphosis, the occluding zonule is followed directly by a series of modified desmosomes.
Interpreted in the light of current physiological data, these findings suggest that the diffusion of water, ions, and small, water-soluble molecules is impeded along the intercellular spaces of the epidermis by zonulae occludentes while it is facilitated from cell to cell within the epidermis by zonulae and maculae occludentes.