Regulation of the blood–biliary barrier: interaction between gap and tight junctions in hepatocytes
- Cite this article as:
- Kojima, T., Yamamoto, T., Murata, M. et al. Med Electron Microsc (2003) 36: 157. doi:10.1007/s00795-003-0220-5
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Hepatocytes tightly connect with each other by intercellular junctions to form liver cell plates. The junctions composed of gap, tight, and adherens junctions and desmosomes concentrate around bile canaliculi. In particular, tight junctions serve as a barrier to keep bile in bile canaliculi away from the blood circulation. Thus, it is very reasonable to call tight junctions of hepatocytes the blood–biliary barrier. On the other hand, gap junctions of hepatocytes are considered to enable ordered contraction of bile canaculi from centrizonal to periportal hepatocytes by their function of intercellular communication. Gap and tight junctions may thus play a crucial role in bile secretion, one of the most differentiated functions of the liver. In intrahepatic cholestasis, a common pathological condition of the liver, downregulation of gap and tight junctional functions is seen, which results in impaired intercellular communication and in leaky tight junctions. Although the changes in gap and tight junctions had been considered to be independent of each other, recent findings that the tight junction-associated proteins ZO-1 and occludin bind to connexins indicate the possibility of either coordinate or reciprocal regulation of macromolecular complexes containing gap- and tight-junction proteins. In this review, we introduce the interaction and regulation between gap and tight junctions of hepatocytes in vitro and discuss the regulatory mechanisms of the “blood–biliary barrier” to study the molecular pathogenesis of cholestasis.