Occludin induces microvillus formation via phosphorylation of ezrin in a mouse hepatic cell line

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Abstract

Apical and basolateral cell membranes are separated by tight junctions (TJs). Microvilli are limited to the apical cell membrane. TJs and microvilli are the landmarks for epithelial cell polarity. However, the direct relationship between TJ proteins (TJPs) and the components of microvilli remains unclear. In this study, we investigated whether occludin, which is considered to be a functional TJP, is involved in microvillus formation. In occludin knockout mouse hepatic cells (OcKO cells), the microvillus density was less than that in wild-type (WT) cells and the length of microvilli was short. Immunoreactivity of ezrin was decreased in OcKO cells compared with that in WT cells. Although there was no change in the expression level of ezrin, phosphorylation of ezrin was decreased in OcKO cells. The microvillus density and the length of microvilli were increased in OcKO cells by transfection of full-length mouse occludin and COOH-terminal domains of occludin. These results suggested that occludin induced microvillus formation via phosphorylation of ezrin and that the COOH-terminal domain of occludin, which is localized in non-TJ areas, might be able to induce microvilli formation. Our results provide new insights into the function of occludin.

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