Cadherin cis and trans interactions are mutually cooperative

Connor J. Thompson, Vinh H. Vu, Deborah E. Leckband, Daniel K. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cadherin transmembrane proteins are responsible for intercellular adhesion in all biological tissues and modulate tissue morphogenesis, cell motility, force transduction, and macromolecular transport. The protein-mediated adhesions consist of adhesive trans interactions and lateral cis interactions. Although theory suggests cooperativity between cis and trans bonds, direct experimental evidence of such cooperativity has not been demonstrated. Here, the use of superresolution microscopy, in conjunction with intermolecular single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer, demonstrated the mutual cooperativity of cis and trans interactions. Results further demonstrate the consequent assembly of large intermembrane junctions, using a biomimetic lipid bilayer cell adhesion model. Notably, the presence of cis interactions resulted in a nearly 30-fold increase in trans-binding lifetimes between epithelial-cadherin extracellular domains. In turn, the presence of trans interactions increased the lifetime of cis bonds. Importantly, comparison of trans-binding lifetimes of small and large cadherin clusters suggests that this cooperativity is primarily due to allostery. The direct quantitative demonstration of strong mutual cooperativity between cis and trans interactions at intermembrane adhesions provides insights into the long-standing controversy of how weak cis and trans interactions act in concert to create strong macroscopic cell adhesions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2019845118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 9 2021


  • Adherens junctions
  • Cadherin
  • Cell adhesion
  • FRET
  • Single-molecule tracking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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