The tight junctions at the boundaries of epithelial cells are of critical importance to the development and function of most tissues in multicellular organisms because they enable epithelia to work in the separation, protection, and shaping of internal organs and glands. These tight junctions act as physical and chemical "barriers" and also as "fences", mediating differential transport of macromolecules, solutes, and ions that regulate body fluid composition. Tight junctions are composed of several groups of proteins, but three classes of tight junction integral membrane proteins (TJIMPs): occludin, claudins, and tricellulin;are thought to play a leading role in their architecture and function. Disruptions of TJIMPs are implicated in several human diseases, such as hepatitis, and cancer, as well as renal wasting disorders, ocular disease, and deafness. Tight junction barrier function may provide targets for manipulating drug transport. But the function of TJIMPs remains poorly understood. We hypothesize that select domains of TJIMPs dictate "barrier" and "fence" function, and that tight junction diversity in various epithelia is governed by the TJIMPs that constitute them. This proposal aims to understand TJIMP structure and function in molecular-level detail by:
Aim 1 : determining the crystal structures of one or more selected TJIMPs and, Aim 2: examining the physiological function(s) of TJIMPs. Bioinformatics will be coupled to high-throughput cloning, expression, and protein analysis technologies to select one or more targets with the best probability for successful X-ray crystallographic structure determination. Functional analysis will employ selective mutagenesis, cell adhesion assays, lipid-labeling strategies, protein localization, freeze-fracture electron microscopy, and electrophysiological means to assess "barrier" and "fence" function in situ. This research has widespread significance for understanding diseases related to the disruption of TJIMPs and provide targets for therapeutics, as well as promoting understanding of drug transport.
Epithelia separate, protect, and shape the tissues of the human body. Membrane proteins found at tight junctions of epithelial cells are essential to their ability to function as physical and chemical barriers while allowing differential transport of solutes and ions. The goal of this research is to determine the structures of these proteins and extend insight into their function, leading to a better understanding of diseases caused by tight junction disruptions and to the development of novel therapeutics.