Alcohol Increases the Permeability of Airway Epithelial Tight Junctions in Beas-2B and NHBE Cells

Samantha M. Simet, Todd A. Wyatt, Jane Devasure, Daniel Yanov, Diane Allen-Gipson, Joseph H. Sisson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Background: Tight junctions form a continuous belt-like structure between cells and act to regulate paracellular signaling. Protein kinase C (PKC) has been shown to regulate tight junction assembly and disassembly and is activated by alcohol. Previous research has shown that alcohol increases the permeability of tight junctions in lung alveolar cells. However, little is known about alcohol's effect on tight junctions in epithelium of the conducting airways. We hypothesized that long-term alcohol exposure reduces zonula occluden-1 (ZO-1) and claudin-1 localization at the cell membrane and increases permeability through a PKC-dependent mechanism. Methods: To test this hypothesis, we exposed normal human bronchial epithelial (NHBE) cells, cells from a human bronchial epithelial transformed cell line (Beas-2B), and Beas-2B expressing a PKCα dominant negative (DN) to alcohol (20, 50, and 100mM) for up to 48hours. Immunofluorescence was used to assess changes in ZO-1, claudin-1, claudin-5, and claudin-7 localization. Electric cell-substrate impedance sensing was used to measure the permeability of tight junctions between monolayers of NHBE, Beas-2B, and DN cells. Results: Alcohol increased tight junction permeability in a concentration-dependent manner and decreased ZO-1, claudin-1, claudin-5, and claudin-7 localization at the cell membrane. To determine a possible signaling mechanism, we measured the activity of PKC isoforms (alpha, delta, epsilon, and zeta). PKCα activity significantly increased in Beas-2B cells from 1 to 6hours of 100mM alcohol exposure, while PKCζ activity significantly decreased at 1hour and increased at 3hours. Inhibiting PKCα with Gö-6976 prevented the alcohol-induced protein changes in both ZO-1 and claudin-1 at the cell membrane. PKCα DN Beas-2B cells were resistant to alcohol-induced protein alterations. Conclusions: These results suggest that alcohol disrupts ZO-1, claudin-1, claudin-5, and claudin-7 through the activation of PKCα, leading to an alcohol-induced "leakiness" in bronchial epithelial cells. Such alcohol-induced airway-leak state likely contributes to the impaired airway host defenses associated with acute and chronic alcohol ingestion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)432-442
Number of pages11
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • Airway epithelium
  • Alcohol
  • Claudin-1
  • Lung
  • Tight junctions
  • Zonula occluden-1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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