Measurements of the transepithelial electrical resistance correlated with freeze-fracture observations have been used to study the process of tight junction formation under various experimental conditions in monolayers of the canine kidney epithelial cell line MDCK.

Cells derived from previously confluent cultures and plated immediately after trypsin- EDTA dissociation develop a resistance that reaches its maximum value of several hundred ohms-cm(2) after approximately 24 h and falls to a steady-state value of 80-150 ohms- cm(2) by 48 h. The rise in resistance and the development of tight junctions can be completely and reversibly prevented by the addition of 10 μg/ml cycloheximide at the time of plating, but not when this inhibitor is added more than 10 h after planting. Thus tight junction formation consists of separable synthetic and assembly phases. These two phases can also be dissociated and the requirement for protein synthesis after plating eliminated if, following trypsinization, the cells are maintained in spinner culture for 24 h before plating. The requirement for protein synthesis is restored, however, if cells maintained in spinner culture are treated with trypsin before plating. Actinomycin D prevents development of resistance only in monolayers formed from cells derived from sparse rather than confluent cultures, but new mRNA synthesis is not required if cells obtained from sparse cultures are maintained for 24 h in spinner culture before plating. Once a steady-state resistance has been reached, its maintenance does not require either mRNA or protein synthesis; in fact, inhibition of protein synthesis causes a rise in the resistance over a 30-h period. Following treatments that disrupt the junctions in steady- state monolayers recovery of resistance also does not require protein synthesis.

These observations suggest that proteins are involved in tight junction formation. Such proteins, which do not turn over rapidly under steady-state conditions, are destroyed by trypsinization and can be resynthesized in the absence of stable cell-cell or cell-substratum contact. Messenger RNA coding for proteins involved in tight junction formation is stable except when cells are sparsely plated, and can also be synthesized without intercellular contacts or cell-substratum attachment.

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