The Journal of Membrane Biology

, Volume 95, Issue 1, pp 9-20

First online:

Protamine alters structure and conductance ofNecturus gallbladder tight junctions without major electrical effects on the apical cell membrane

  • Carl J. BentzelAffiliated withDivision of Renal Medicine, School of Medicine, East Carolina University
  • , Michael FrommAffiliated withInstitut für Klinische Physiologie, Freie Universität Berlin
  • , Carlos E. PalantAffiliated withNephrology Division, Sepulveda VA Medical Center
  • , Ulrich HegelAffiliated withInstitut für Klinische Physiologie, Freie Universität Berlin

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Protamine is a naturally occurring basic protein (pI; 9.7 to 12.0). We have recently reported that protamine dissolved in the mucosal bath (2 to 20 μm), induces about a twofold increase in transepithelial resistance inNecturus gallbladder within 10 min. Conductance decreased concomitantly with cation selectivity.

In this leaky epithelium, where >90% of an applied current passes between cells, an increment in resistance of this magnitude suggests a paracellular actiona priori. To confirm this, ionic conductance across the apical cell membrane was studied with microelectrodes. Protamine increased transepithelial resistance without changing apical cell membrane voltage or fractional membrane resistance. Variation in extracellular K concentration (6 to 50mm) caused changes in apical membrane voltage not different from control.

To determine if protamine-induced resistance changes were associated with structural alteration of tight junctions, gallbladders were fixedin situ at peak response and analyzed by freeze-fracture electron microscopy. According to a morphometrical analysis, the tight junctional intramembranous domain expands vertically due to incorporation of new strands (fibrils) into the main compact fibrillar meshwork.

Since morphologic changes are complete within 10 min, strands are probably recycled into and out of the tight junctional membrane domain possibly by the cytoskeleton either from cytoplasmic vesicles or from intramembranous precursors. Regulation of tight junctional permeability by protamine and other perturbations may constitute a common mechanism by which leaky epithelia regulate transport, and protamine, in concentrations employed in this study, seems reasonably specific for the tight junction.

Key Words

protamine tight junction transepithelial resistance tight junction morphology tight junction strands Necturus gallbladder