05.04.2016 | Review | Ausgabe 8/2016
Gastrointestinal mucosal barrier function and diseases
Journal of Gastroenterology
- Tadayuki Oshima, Hiroto Miwa
The gastrointestinal mucosal barrier plays an essential role in the separation of the inside of the body from the outside environment. Tight junctions (TJs) are the most important component for construction of a constitutive barrier of epithelial cells, and they regulate the permeability of the barrier by tightly sealing the cell–cell junctions. TJ proteins are represented by claudins, occludin, junctional adhesion molecules, and scaffold protein zonula occludens. Among these TJ proteins, claudins are the major components of TJs and are responsible for the barrier and the polarity of the epithelial cells. Gastrointestinal diseases including reflux esophagitis, inflammatory bowel disease, functional gastrointestinal disorders, and cancers may be regulated by these molecules, and disruption of their functions leads to chronic inflammatory conditions and chronic or progressive disease. Therefore, regulation of the barrier function of epithelial cells by regulating the expression and localization of TJ proteins is a potential new target for the treatment of these diseases. Treatment strategies for these diseases might thus be largely altered if symptom generation and/or immune dysfunction could be regulated through improvement of mucosal barrier function. Since TJ proteins may also modify tumor infiltration and metastasis, other important goals include finding a good TJ biomarker of cancer progression and patient prognosis, and developing TJ protein-targeted therapies that can modify patient prognosis. This review summarizes current understanding of gastrointestinal barrier function, TJ protein expression, and the mechanisms underlying epithelial barrier dysregulation in gastrointestinal diseases.