Although polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN's) can migrate through every epithelium in the body regardless of its permeability, very little is known about the effect of epithelial permeability on PMN migration and the effect of emigrating PMN's on the permeability of the epithelium. In an in vitro model system of transepithelial migration, human PMN's were stimulated by 0.1 micrometer fMet-Leu-Phe to traverse confluent, polarized canine kidney epithelial monolayers of varying permeabilities. Epithelial permeability was determined by both conductance measurement and horseradish peroxidase (HRP) tracer studies. As epithelial permeability increased, the number of PMN invasion sites as well as the number of PMN's that traversed the monolayer increased. The effect of PMN migration on epithelial permeability was examined using the ultrastructural tracers HRP and lanthanum nitrate. PMN's traversing the monolayer made close cell-to-cell contacts with other invading PMNs and with adjacent epithelial cells. These close contacts appeared to prevent leakage of tracer across invasion sites. Following PMN emigration, epithelial junctional membranes reapproximated and were impermeable to the tracers. These results indicated that, in the absence of serum and connective tissue factors, (a) the number of PMN invasion sites and the number of PMN's that traversed an epithelium were a function of the conductance of the epithelium and (b) PMN's in the process of transepithelial migration maintained close cell-cell contacts and prevented the leakage of particles (greater than 5 nm in diameter) across the invasion site.

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