Xu J, Anuar F, Mohamed Ali S, Ng MY, Phua DC, Hunziker W.
Tight junction integral membrane proteins such as Claudins and Occludin are tethered to the actin cytoskeleton by adaptor proteins, notably the closely related Zonula Occludens proteins ZO-1, ZO-2 and ZO-3. All three ZO-proteins have recently been inactivated in mice. While ZO-3 knockout mice lack an obvious phenotype, animals deficient in ZO-1 or ZO-2 show early embryonic lethality. Here, we rescue the embryonic lethality of ZO-2 knockout mice by injecting ZO-2-/- ES cells into wild-type blastocysts to generate viable ZO-2 chimera. ZO-2-/- ES cells contribute extensively to different tissues of the chimera, consistent with an extraembryonic requirement for ZO-2 rather than a critical role in epiblast development. Adult chimera present a set of phenotypes in different organs. In particular, male ZO-2 chimera show reduced fertility and pathological changes in the testis. Lanthanum tracer experiments show a compromised blood-testis barrier. Expression levels of ZO-1, ZO-3, Claudin-11 and Occludin are not apparently affected. ZO-1 and Occludin still localize to the blood-testis barrier region, but Claudin-11 is less well restricted and the localization of Connexin-43 is perturbed. The critical role of ZO-2 for male fertility and blood-testis barrier integrity thus provides a first example for a nonredundant role of an individual ZO-protein in adult mice.