Contributions of intestinal epithelial barriers to health and disease

A core function of epithelia is to form barriers that separate tissue compartments within complex organisms. These barriers also separate the internal milieu from the external environment and are, therefore, an essential component of host defense. However, in many cases, a perfect barrier would be improbable with life itself. Examples include the air spaces within the lungs, the renal tubules, and the intestines. Here, we focus on the mechanisms by which barriers are assembled, maintained, and regulated in the context of health and disease. Because of its unique challenges and extensive study, we focus on the gastrointestinal tract as an organ-specific example of the essential contributions of the paracellular barrier to life.