We have previously shown that upon transferring confluent monolayers of Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells from low- to normal-Ca2+ medium, cytosolic Ca2+ increases and tight junctions (TJs) assemble and seal, but the increase in cytosolic Ca2+ does not seem to be necessary for junction formation. In the present work we establish that these are in fact two independent phenomena. We first measured unidirectional Ca2+ fluxes across the plasma membrane of MDCK cells to find suitable inhibitors and tested their effects on the ability of Ca2+ to seal the TJ. Likewise, we studied a variety of multivalent cations. We observed that 1) Ca2+ triggering of junction formation does not depend on its entering the cell, 2) cations like La3+ may impair the influx of Ca2+ without affecting the sealing of TJs, and 3) only Cd2+ is able to block both Ca2+ penetration and junction formation; however, 4) Cd2+ itself cannot trigger junction formation. We interpret that Ca2+ triggers junction formation by acting mainly on an extracellular membrane site and that this site has a higher Ca2+ selectivity than the mechanisms for Ca2+ translocation across the membrane.
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