The vertebrate tight junction is a critical claudin-based cell-cell junction that functions to prevent free paracellular diffusion between epithelial cells. In Drosophila, this barrier is provided by the septate junction, which, despite being ultrastructurally distinct from the vertebrate tight junction, also contains the claudin-family proteins Megatrachea and Sinuous. Here we identify a third Drosophila claudin, Kune-kune, that localizes to septate junctions and is required for junction organization and paracellular barrier function, but not for apical-basal polarity. In the tracheal system, septate junctions have a barrier-independent function that promotes lumenal secretion of Vermiform and Serpentine, extracellular matrix modifier proteins that are required to restrict tube length. As with Sinuous and Megatrachea, loss of Kune-kune prevents this secretion and results in overly elongated tubes. Embryos lacking all three characterized claudins have tracheal phenotypes similar to any single mutant, indicating that these claudins act in the same pathway controlling tracheal tube length. However, we find that there are distinct requirements for these claudins in epithelial septate junction formation. Megatrachea is predominantly required for correct localization of septate junction components, while Sinuous is predominantly required for maintaining normal levels of septate junction proteins. Kune-kune is required for both localization and levels. Double- and triple-mutant combinations of Sinuous and Megatrachea with Kune-kune resemble the Kune-kune single mutant, suggesting that Kune-kune has a more central role in septate junction formation than either Sinuous or Megatrachea.
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