Ethanol modulation of intestinal epithelial tight junction barrier

Thomas Y. Ma, Don Nguyen, Vuong Bui, Hanh Nguyen, Neil Hoa

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227 Citations (SciVal)


Previous studies have shown that high concentrations of ethanol (≥40%) cause functional damage of the gastrointestinal epithelial barrier by direct cytotoxic effect on the epithelial cells. The effects of lower noncytotoxic doses of ethanol on epithelial barrier function are unknown. A major function of gastrointestinal epithelial cells is to provide a barrier against the hostile substances in the gastrointestinal lumen. The apicolaterally located tight junctions (TJs) form a paracellular seal between the lateral membranes of adjacent cells and act as a paracellular barrier. In this study, we investigated the effects of lower doses of ethanol on intestinal epithelial TJ barrier function using filter-grown Caco-2 intestinal epithelial monolayers. The Caco-2 TJ barrier function was assessed by measuring epithelial resistance or paracellular permeability of the filter-grown monolayers. Ethanol (0, 1, 2.5, 5, 7.5, and 10%) produced a dose-related drop in Caco-2 epithelial resistance and increase in paracellular permeability. Ethanol also produced a progressive disruption of TJ protein (ZO-1) with separation of ZO-1 proteins from the cellular junctions and formation of large gaps between the adjacent cells. Ethanol, at the doses used (≤10%), did not cause cytotoxicity (lactate dehydrogenase release) to the Caco-2 cells. Ethanol produced a disassembly and displacement of perijunctional actin and myosin filaments from the perijunctional areas. On ethanol removal, actin and myosin filaments rapidly reassembled at the cellular borders. Ethanol stimulated the Caco-2 myosin light chain kinase (MLCK) activity but did not affect the MLCK protein levels. Specific MLCK inhibitor ML-7 inhibited both ethanol increases in MLCK activity and TJ permeability without affecting the MLCK protein levels. Consistent with these findings; metabolic inhibitors sodium azide and 2,4-dinitrophenol significantly prevented ethanol-induced increase in Caco-2 TJ permeability, whereas cycloheximide or actinomycin D had no effect. The results of this study indicate that ethanol at low noncytotoxic doses causes a functional and structural opening of the Caco-2 intestinal epithelial TJ barrier by activating MLCK.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)G965-G974
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number4 39-4
StatePublished - Apr 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Physiology (medical)


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