The tight junction of the epithelial cell determines the characteristics of paracellular permeability across epithelium. Recent work points toward the claudin family of tight junction proteins as leading candidates for the molecular components that regulate paracellular permeability properties in epithelial tissues. Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) strain I and II cells are models for the study of tight junctions and based on transepithelial electrical resistance (TER) contain "tight" and "leaky" tight junctions, respectively. Overexpression studies suggest that tight junction leakiness in these two strains of MDCK cells is conferred by expression of the tight junction protein claudin-2. Extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) 1/2 activation by hepatocyte growth factor treatment of MDCK strain II cells inhibited claudin-2 expression and transiently increased TER. This process was blocked by the ERK 1/2 inhibitor U0126. Transfection of constitutively active mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase kinase into MDCK strain II cells also inhibited claudin-2 expression and increased TER. MDCK strain I cells have higher levels of active ERK 1/2 than do MDCK strain II cells. U0126 treatment of MDCK strain I cells decreased active ERK 1/2 levels, induced expression of claudin-2 protein, and decreased TER by ∼20-fold. U0126 treatment also induced claudin-2 expression and decreased TER in a high resistance mouse cortical collecting duct cell line (94D). These data show for the first time that the ERK 1/2 signaling pathway negatively controls claudin-2 expression in mammalian renal epithelial cells and provide evidence for regulation of tight junction paracellular transport by alterations in claudin composition within tight junction complexes.