, Volume 93, Issue 3 Supplement, pp s030-s039

Structural and functional aspects of intercellular junctions in vascular endothelium

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Cell-to-cell-junctions of endothelial cells are specialized and differentiated areas of the plasma membrane. The main functions include the separation of the intravascular and extravascular compartments, the mechanical connection of the cells, and the maintenance of the cell polarity. Although a wide heterogeneity of endothelial cell-to-cell junctions exists in situ, they should be considered in general as adherens type junctions in which gap and tight junctions are morphologically inserted.

Under certain pathological conditions, such as wound healing, angiogenesis and many types of inflammation, the interendothelial junctions have to be dissociated and reorganized in which proteins of the junctions are crucially involved. These important mechanisms predict a sophisticated regulation of junctional proteins. The present paper describes the organization and functional aspects of the occludin/ZO-1 complex typically found in tight junctions, the cadherin/catenin complex of the adherens junctions and the connection of these protein complexes to the dense peripheral band via actin filaments. In addition, special attention has been drawn on the function of junction-associated proteins with respect to their role under fluid shear stress and interendothelial gap formation during inflammation.