Gupta IR, Ryan AK. Claudins: unlocking the code to tight junction function during embryogenesis and in disease.
Claudins are the structural and molecular building blocks of tight junctions. Individual cells express more than one claudin family member, which suggests that a combinatorial claudin code that imparts flexibility and dynamic regulation of tight junction function could exist. Although we have learned much from manipulating claudin expression and function in cell lines, loss-of-function and gain-of-function experiments in animal model systems are essential for understanding how claudin-based boundaries function in the context of a living embryo and/or tissue. These in vivo manipulations have pointed to roles for claudins in maintaining the epithelial integrity of cell layers, establishing micro-environments and contributing to the overall shape of an embryo or tissue. In addition, loss-of-function mutations in combination with the characterization of mutations in human disease have demonstrated the importance of claudins in regulating paracellular transport of solutes and water during normal physiological states. In this review, we will discuss specific examples of in vivo studies that illustrate the function of claudin family members during development and in disease.