Role of intercellular junctions in the passage of horseradish peroxidase across aortic endothelium.
The manner in which molecules are transported across the arterial endothelial layer has been a subject open to much interpretation and controversy. Further elucidation and clarification of these mechanisms are of primary interest. To investigate the ultrastructural features of arterial endothelial junctions and to evaluate their functional roles as a transendothelial pathway for macromolecular transport, experiments were performed on the thoracic aortae of adult male Sprague-Dawley rats by using the ultrathin serial sectioning technique and horseradish peroxidase (HRP). The aorta was perfusion-fixed with or without prior intravenous injection of HRP. The intercellular clefts exhibited a great deal of variety in shape, being linear, winding, interdigitated, irregular and/or dumbbell-shaped in appearance. Besides the typical 20-nm width encountered at the uniform region of intercellular clefts, local widenings (up to several hundred nm) were quite common. The arterial endothelial junctions were highly organized. Junctional elements, including tight junctions and gap junctions, were frequently present in the same intercellular cleft, even on the same plane of sectioning. Sometimes, gap junctions were found without tight junctions, but the intercellular clefts were rarely obliterated by tight junctions alone. Some intercellular clefts were not obliterated by either gap or tight junctions, and HRP was found to reach the subendothelial space by passing through these junctionless clefts. Densitometric determination of the HRP concentration profile in such junctionless clefts showed a decreasing gradient from the luminal to the abluminal front. The serial sections provided evidence that the apparently free vesicles were actually plasmalemmal membrane invaginations open to the luminal or abluminal front in the arterial endothelium. The present study showed that the junctionless normal endothelial clefts, in addition to the transiently open junctions surrounding mitotic cells, might provide a significant pathway in the transendothelial transport of macromolecules with the size of HRP.