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.
An epithelial cell line (MDCK) was used to prepare monolayers which, in vitro, develop properties of transporting epithelia. Monolayers were formed by plating cells at high densities (10(6) cells/cm2) on collagen-coated nylon cloth disks to saturate the area available for attachment, thus avoiding the need for cell division. An electrical resistance developed within 4-6 h after plating and achieved a steady-state value of 104 +/- 1.8 omega-cm2 after 24 h. Mature monolayers were morphologically and functionally polarized. They contained junctional complexes composed of desmosomes and tight junctions with properties similar to those of "leaky" epithelia. Monolayers were capable of maintaining a spontaneous electrical potential sensitive to amiloride, produced a net water flux from the apical to basal side, and discriminated between Na+ and Cl- ions. The MDCK permeability barrier behaves as a "thin" membrane with negatively charged sites. It has: (a) a linear conductance/concentration relationship; (b) an asymmetric instantaneous current/voltage relationship; (c) a reduced ability to discriminate between Na+ and Cl- caused by lowering the pH; and (d) a characteristic pattern of ionic selectivity which suggests that the negatively charged sites are highly hydrates and of medium field strength. Measurements of Na+ permeability of electrical and tracer methods ruled out exchange diffusion as a mechanism for ion permeation and the lack of current saturation in the I/deltapsi curves does not support the involvement of carriers. The discrimination between Na+ and Cl- was severely but reversibly decreased at low pH, suggesting that Na+-specific channels which exclude Cl- contain acidic groups dissociated at neutral pH. Bound Ca++ ions are involved in maintaining the integrity of the junctions in MDCK monolayers as was shown by a reversible drop of resistance and opening of the junctions in Ca++-free medium containing EGTA. Several other epithelial cell lines are capable of developing a significant resistance under the conditions used to obtain MDCK monolayers.