The Journal of Membrane Biology

, Volume 80, Issue 1, pp 59–70 | Cite as

Partitioning of paracellular conductance along the ileal crypt-villus axis: A hypothesis based on structural analysis with detailed consideration of tight junction structure-function relationships

  • Manuel A. Marcial
  • Susan L. Carlson
  • James L. Madara


Current models of intestinal transport suggest cells which absorb ions are located on the villus while secretory cells are located in the crypt and putatively have paracellular pathways which are highly conductive to Na+. One approach to assess possible variation in small intestinal paracellular conductance along the crypt-villus axis is to morphometrically analyze the structural aspects of crypt and villus tight junctions (TJs) which relate to paracellular resistance. Such detailed analysis of junctional structure in this heterogeneous epithelium would permit one to compare intestinal TJ structure-function relationships with those in a structurally simpler epithelium such as that of toad urinary bladder. This comparison would also be of considerable interest since previous similar comparisons have failed to consider in detail the geometric dissimilarity between these two epithelia. We applied light, electron microscopic, and freezefracture morphometric techniques to guinea pig ileal mucosa to quantitatively assess, for both crypts and villi, linear TJ density, relative surface contributions, and TJ strand counts. Mean linear TJ densities were 76.8 m/cm2 for crypt cells and 21.8 m/cm2 for villus absorptive cells. Mean TJ strand counts were 4.45 for undifferentiated crypt cell TJs and 6.03 for villus absorptive cell TJs. The villus constituted 87% and the crypt 13% of total surface. We utilized these data to predict paracellular conductance of cryptsvs. villi based on equations derived from those of Claude (P. Claude,J. Membrane Biol.39:219–232, 1978). Such analysis predicts that 73% of ileal paracellular conductance is attributable to the crypt. Furthermore, we obtained literature values for paracellular resistance in mammalian ileum and toad urinary bladder and for toad bladder TJ structure and linear density and constructed a relationship which would allow us to more accurately compare TJ structure-function correlates between these two epithelia. Such a comparison, which considers both surface amplification and TJ structure and distribution in these epithelia, shows that one would predictin vitro measured values for paracellular resistance should be approximately two orders of magnitude less in mammalian ileum than in toad urinary bladder. This predicted discrepancy (115-fold) correlates well with the observed difference (100-fold). These findings suggest that highly similar TJ structure-function relationships apply to these geometrically dissimilar tissues and that, in mammalian ileum, the crypt compartment may be responsible for the majority of net ileal paracellular conductance. We speculate that high crypt linear TJ density and low crypt TJ strand counts may serve as the structural basis of massive paracellular Na+ movement which is coupled to active Cl secretion and appears to originate from the crypt following exposure to intestinal secretagogues.

Key Words

intestine tight junction paracellular pathway transepithelial resistance 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Manuel A. Marcial
    • 1
  • Susan L. Carlson
    • 1
  • James L. Madara
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Pathology (Gastrointestinal Pathology)Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical SchoolBoston

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