, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 107-123

Immunolocalization of occludin and claudin-1 to tight junctions in intact CNS vessels of mammalian retina

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Abstract

The distributions of occludin and claudin-1, two tight junction–associated integral membrane proteins were investigated by immunohistochemical analysis of whole-mount preparations of the blood vessels in the myelinated streak of the rabbit retina. Light microscopy revealed that occludin and claudin-1 immunoreactivities were abundant along the interface of adjacent endothelial cells of all blood vessels. Electron microscopy revealed that both proteins were distributed in a regular pattern (at regular intervals of approximately 80 nm) along the length of tight junctions, probably in the regions of tight junction strands. No other structures or cell types expressed either of these two proteins in the myelinated streak. Whereas occludin immunoreactivity was concentrated only at the tight junction interface, claudin-1 immunoreactivity also extended into the cytoplasm of the endothelial cells, suggesting a different structural role for claudin-1 than for occludin at tight junctions. Retinal pigment epithelial cells expressed occludin around their entire circumference, consistent with the function of these cells as a barrier separating the retina from the leaky vessels of the choroid. Also consistent with the association of occludin expression with vessels that exhibit functional tight junctions, this protein was expressed at only a low level in, and showed an irregular distribution along, the vessels of the choroid, a vascular bed that lacks blood-barrier properties. Further, the distribution of occludin was examined during formation and remodelling of the rat retinal vasculature. Occludin expression was evident at the leading edge of vessel formation and was found on all vessels in both the inner and outer vascular plexus. Numerous vascular segments at the early stage of vascular formation and regression lost occludin expression. The biological significance of this transient loss of occludin expression in terms of barrier function remains to be elucidated.