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Tight junctions (TJs) are essential components of epithelial tissues connecting neighboring cells to provide protective barriers. While their general function to seal compartments is well understood, their role in collective cell migration is largely unexplored. Here, the importance of the TJ zonula occludens (ZO) proteins ZO1 and ZO2 for epithelial migration is investigated employing video microscopy in conjunction with velocimetry, segmentation, cell tracking, and atomic force microscopy/spectroscopy. The results indicate that ZO proteins are necessary for fast and coherent migration. In particular, ZO1 and 2 loss (dKD) induces actomyosin remodeling away from the central cortex towards the periphery of individual cells, resulting in altered viscoelastic properties. A tug-of-war emerges between two subpopulations of cells with distinct morphological and mechanical properties: 1) smaller and highly contractile cells with an outward bulging apical membrane, and 2) larger, flattened cells, which, due to tensile stress, display a higher proliferation rate. In response, the cell density increases, leading to crowding-induced jamming and more small cells over time. Co-cultures comprising wildtype and dKD cells migrate inefficiently due to phase separation based on differences in contractility rather than differential adhesion. This study shows that ZO proteins are necessary for efficient collective cell migration by maintaining tissue fluidity and controlling proliferation. © 2021 The Authors. Advanced Science published by Wiley-VCH GmbH.


Mark Skamrahl, Hongtao Pang, Maximilian Ferle, Jannis Gottwald, Angela Rübeling, Riccardo Maraspini, Alf Honigmann, Tabea A Oswald, Andreas Janshoff. Tight Junction ZO Proteins Maintain Tissue Fluidity, Ensuring Efficient Collective Cell Migration. Advanced science (Weinheim, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany). 2021 Oct;8(19):e2100478

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PMID: 34382375

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