We show here, that activation of protein kinase C by the phorbol ester PMA improves barrier function in colon carcinoma (HT 29) cells. By contrast, in canine kidney (MDCK I) cells it caused increased permeability and opening of tight junctions; the latter has also been noticed in other studies. Thus, with PMA confluent HT 29 cells responded with a reduced passage of 330 kDa sodium fluorescein, increased transepithelial electrical resistance, and a change in the cell shape of the HT 29 cells from an irregular to a regular, hexagonal form. Confocal imaging revealed parallel distinct changes in the staining of occludin and caludin-1, viz. a translocation from cytoplasmic clusters to apical cell–cell contacts. Interestingly, in both cell lines protein kinase A activation caused a decreased in the threonine phosphorylation of occludin that correlated with tight junction assembly in HT 29 cells and tight junction disassembly in MDCK I cells. We conclude that protein kinase C regulation of the epithelial barrier involves specific molecular mechanisms and achieves distinct effects at different developmental stages.

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