The tight junction is an intracellular functional structure that mediates adhesion between epithelial cells and is required for epithelial cell function. Tight junctions control paracellular permeability across epithelial cell sheets and also serve as a barrier to intramembrane diffusion of components between a cell's apical and basolateral membrane domains. Recent genetic and biochemical studies in invertebrates and vertebrates indicate that tight junction proteins play an important role in the establishment and maintenance of apico-basal polarity. Proteins involved in epithelial cell polarization form evolutionarily conserved multiprotein complexes at the tight junction, and these protein complexes regulate the architecture of epithelia throughout the polarization process. Accumulating information regarding the regulation of these polarity proteins will lead to a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms whereby cell polarity is established.