ZO-1 binds numerous transmembrane and cytoplasmic proteins and is required for assembly of both adherens and tight junctions, but its role in defining barrier properties of an established tight junction is unknown. We depleted ZO-1 in MDCKcells using siRNA methods and observed specific defects in the barrier for large solutes, even though flux through the small claudin pores was unaffected. This permeability increase was accompanied by morphological alterations and reorganization of apical actin and myosin. The permeability defect, and to a lesser extent morphological changes, could be rescued by reexpression of either full-length ZO-1 or an N-terminal construct containing the PDZ, SH3, and GUK domains. ZO-2 knockdown did not replicate either the permeability or morphological phenotypes seen in the ZO-1 knockdown, suggesting that ZO-1 and -2 are not functionally redundant for these functions. Wild-type and knockdown MDCK cells had differing physiological and morphological responses to pharmacologic interventions targeting myosin activity. Use of the ROCK inhibitor Y27632 or myosin inhibitor blebbistatin increased TER in wild-type cells, whereas ZO-1 knockdown monolayers were either unaffected or changed in the opposite direction; paracellular flux and myosin localization were also differentially affected. These studies are the first direct evidence that ZO-1 limits solute perme- ability in established tight junctions, perhaps by forming a stabilizing link between the barrier and perijunctional actomyosin.
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