Expression pattern of adhesion molecules in junctional epithelium differs from that in other gingival epithelia

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Background and Objective

The gingival epithelium is the physiologically important interface between the bacterially colonized gingival sulcus and periodontal soft and mineralized connective tissues, requiring protection from exposure to bacteria and their products. However, of the three epithelia comprising the gingival epithelium, the junctional epithelium has much wider intercellular spaces than the sulcular epithelium and oral gingival epithelium. Hence, the aim of the present study was to characterize the cell adhesion structure in the junctional epithelium compared with the other two epithelia.

Material and Methods

Gingival epithelia excised at therapeutic flap surgery from patients with periodontitis were examined for expression of adhesion molecules by immunofluorescence.


In the oral gingival epithelium and sulcular epithelium, but not in the junctional epithelium, desmoglein 1 and 2 in cell–cell contact sites were more abundant in the upper than the suprabasal layers. E-cadherin, the main transmembranous molecule of adherens junctions, was present in spinous layers of the oral gingival epithelium and sulcular epithelium, but was scarce in the junctional epithelium. In contrast, desmoglein 3 and P-cadherin were present in all layers of the junctional epithelium as well as the oral gingival epithelium and sulcular epithelium. Connexin 43 was clearly localized to spinous layers of the oral gingival epithelium, sulcular epithelium and parts of the junctional epithelium. Claudin-1 and occludin were expressed in the cell membranes of a few superficial layers of the oral gingival epithelium.


These findings indicated that the junctional epithelium contains only a few desmosomes, composed of only desmoglein 3; adherens junctions are probably absent because of defective E-cadherin. Thus, the anchoring junctions connecting junctional epithelium cells are lax, causing widened intercellular spaces. In contrast, the oral gingival epithelium, which has a few tight junctions, functions as a barrier.

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