, Volume 210, Issue 2, pp 117-130
Date: 25 Jul 2006

The Role of the Tight Junction in Paracellular Fluid Transport across Corneal Endothelium. Electro-osmosis as a Driving Force

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The mechanism of epithelial fluid transport is controversial and remains unsolved. Experimental difficulties pose obstacles for work on a complex phenomenon in delicate tissues. However, the corneal endothelium is a relatively simple system to which powerful experimental tools can be applied. In recent years our laboratory has developed experimental evidence and theoretical insights that illuminate the mechanism of fluid transport across this leaky epithelium. Our evidence points to fluid being transported via the paracellular route by a mechanism requiring junctional integrity, which we attribute to electro-osmotic coupling at the junctions. Fluid movements can be produced by electrical currents. The direction of the movement can be reversed by current reversal or by changing junctional electrical charges by polylysine. Aquaporin 1 (AQP1) is the only AQP present in these cells, and its deletion in AQP1 null mice significantly affects cell osmotic permeability but not fluid transport, which militates against the presence of sizable water movements across the cell. By contrast, AQP1 null mice cells have reduced regulatory volume decrease (only 60% of control), which suggests a possible involvement of AQP1 in either the function or the expression of volume-sensitive membrane channels/transporters. A mathematical model of corneal endothelium predicts experimental results only when based on paracellular electro-osmosis, and not when transcellular local osmosis is assumed instead.

Our experimental findings in corneal endothelium have allowed us to develop a novel paradigm for this preparation that includes: (1) paracellular fluid flow; (2) a crucial role for the junctions; (3) hypotonicity of the primary secretion; (4) an AQP role in regulation and not as a significant water pathway. These elements are remarkably similar to those proposed by the Hill laboratory for leaky epithelia.