In epithelia, large amounts of water pass by transcellular and paracellular pathways, driven by the osmotic gradient built up by the movement of solutes. The transcellular pathway has been molecularly characterized by the discovery of aquaporin membrane channels. Unlike this, the existence of a paracellular pathway for water through the tight junctions (TJ) was discussed controversially for many years until two molecular components of paracellular water transport, claudin-2 and claudin-15, were identified. A main protein of the tricellular TJ (tTJ), tricellulin, was shown to be downregulated in ulcerative colitis leading to increased permeability to macromolecules. Whether or not tricellulin also regulates water transport is unknown yet. To this end, an epithelial cell line featuring properties of a tight epithelium, Madin-Darby canine kidney cells clone 7 (MDCK C7), was stably transfected with small hairpin RNA (shRNA) targeting tricellulin, a protein of the tTJ essential for the barrier against passage of solutes up to 10 kDa. Water flux was induced by osmotic gradients using mannitol or 4 and 40 kDa-dextran. Water flux in tricellulin knockdown (KD) cells was higher compared to that of vector controls, indicating a direct role of tricellulin in regulating water permeability in a tight epithelial cell line. We conclude that tricellulin increases water permeability at reduced expression.
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