Tight junction proteins are important for the maintenance and repair of the intestinal mucosal barrier. The present study investigated relationships among tight junction protein gene expres- sion, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) infection, and intestinal mucosal morphology in piglets. We compared the expression of six tight junction proteins (ZO-1, ZO-2, Occludin, Claudin-1, Claudin-4, and Claudin-5) between seven-day-old piglets infected with PEDV and normal piglets, as well as in PEDV-infected porcine intestinal epithelial cells (IPEC-J2). We also evaluated differences in mucosal morphology between PEDV-infected and normal piglets. The expression of six tight junction protein genes was lower in PEDV-infected piglets than in the normal animals. The expression of ZO-1, ZO-2, Occludin, and Claudin-4 in the intestine tissue was significantly lower (p<0.05) in PEDV-infected than in normal piglets. The expression of Claudin-5 in the jejunum was significantly lower in PEDV-infected piglets than in the normal animals (p<0.01). The expression of Claudin-1 and Claudin-5 genes in the ileum was signifi- cantly higher in PEDV-infected piglets than in normal piglets (p<0.01). Morphologically, the intestinal mucosa in PEDV-infected piglets exhibited clear pathological changes, including breakage and shedding of intestinal villi. In PEDV-infected IPEC-J2 cells, the mRNA expression of the six tight junction proteins showed a downward trend; in particular, the expression of the Occludin and Claudin-4 genes was significantly lower (p<0.01). These data suggest that the expression of these six tight junction proteins, especially Occludin and Claudin-4, plays an important role in maintaining the integrity of the intestinal mucosal barrier and resistance to PEDV infection in piglets.
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