Claudin protein family members, of which there are at least 27 in humans and mice, polymerize to form tight junctions (TJs) between epithelial cells, in a tissue- and developmental stage-specific manner. Claudins have a paracellular barrier function. In addition, certain claudins function as paracellular channels for small ions and/or solutes by forming selective pores at the TJs, although the specific claudins involved and their functional mechanisms are still in question. Here we show for the first time that claudin-21, which is more highly expressed in the embryonic than the postnatal stages, acts as a paracellular channel for small cations, such as Na+, similar to the typical channel-type claudins claudin-2 and -15. Claudin-21 also allows the paracellular passage of larger solutes. Our findings suggest that claudin-21-based TJs allow the passage of small and larger solutes by both paracellular channel-based and some additional mechanisms.
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