The intestinal tracts from seven different species of tunicates, some solitary, some colonial, were studied fine-structurally by freeze-fracture. These urochordates occupy an intermediate position phylogenetically between the vertebrates and the invertebrates. The various regions of their gut were isolated for examination and the junctional characteristics of each part investigated. All the species examined exhibited unequivocal vertebrate-like belts of tight-junctional networks at the luminal border of their intestinal cells. No septate junctions were observed. The tight junctions varied in the number of their component strands and the depth to which they extended basally, some becoming loose and fragmented towards that border. The junctions consisted of ridges or rows of intramembranous particles (IMPs) on the P face, with complementary, but offset, E face grooves into which IMPs sometimes fractured. Tracer studies show that punctate appositions, the thin-section correlate of these ridge/groove systems, are sites beyond which exogenous molecules do not penetrate. These junctions are therefore likely to represent permeability barriers as in the gut tract of higher chordates. Associated with these occluding zonular junctions are intermediate junctions, which exhibit no identifiable freeze-fracture profile, and macular gap junctions, characterized by a reduced intercellular cleft in thin section and by clustered arrays of P face particles in freeze-fractured replicas; these display complementary aggregates of E face pits. The diameters of these maculae are rarely very large, but in certain species (for example, Ciona), they are unusually small. In some tissues, notably those of Diplosoma and Botryllus, they are all of rather similar size, but very numerous. In yet others, such as Molgula, they are polygonal with angular outlines, as might be indicative of the uncoupled state. In many attributes, these various junctions are more similar to those found in the tissues of vertebrates, than to those in the invertebrates, which the adult zooid forms of these lowly chordates resemble anatomically.
Tight and gap junctions in the intestinal tract of tunicates (Urochordata): a freeze-fracture study
N.J. Lane, R. Dallai, P. Burighel, G.B. Martinucci; Tight and gap junctions in the intestinal tract of tunicates (Urochordata): a freeze-fracture study. J Cell Sci 1 August 1986; 84 (1): 1–17. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/jcs.84.1.1
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