Dysfunction in the esophageal epithelial barrier function is a major source for morbidity. To better understand the pathophysiologic pathways of the diseases associated with barrier dysfunction, including gastroesophageal reflux disease, eosinophilic esophagitis, Barrett's esophagus, and obesity, it is important to understand the esophageal epithelial embryologic development, microscopic anatomy with a special focus on the barrier structure and function, extraepithelial defense mechanisms, and how these change in the diseased state. In recent years, significant progress has been made in elucidating the esophageal barrier structure and function both in vitro and in vivo. This has enhanced the understanding of mechanisms of disease, and may also allow identification of therapeutic targets that can help in the management of these diseases. This review provides a detailed discussion regarding the esophageal epithelial barrier structure and function, the current and historical techniques used to study the barrier, and how it is affected by common esophageal diseases.
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