Cytokines are supposed to be mediators in diarrhoeal diseases. The aim of this study is to characterize the effect of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha) on epithelial barrier function in the colonic epithelial cell line HT-29/B6. Active ion transport and barrier function were measured as short-circuit current and transepithelial electrical resistance (Rt), respectively. In parallel, freeze-fracture electron microscopy (EM) of tight junctions (TJ) and immunofluorescence microscopy of the zonula occludens protein-1 (ZO-1) were performed. Serosal addition of TNF(alpha) (100 ng/ml) decreased Rt by 81%. This effect was dose-dependent and could be mimicked by antibodies against the p55 form of the TNF receptor. Cytotoxic effects were excluded by a negative lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) assay. Immunofluorescence localization with anti-ZO-1 antibodies revealed no evidence for disruption of the monolayer after TNFalpha treatment. In freeze-fracture EM, TJ complexity was decreased by TNFalpha, as indicated by a decrease in the number of strands from 4.7 to 3.4. The tyrosine kinase blocker genistein and the protein kinase A inhibitor H-8 reduced the effect of TNFalpha. A combination of TNFalpha with interferon-gamma acted synergistically on the epithelial barrier. In conclusion, TNFalpha impairs epithelial barrier function by altering structure and function of the tight junction, which could be of pathogenic relevance in intestinal inflammation.

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