Cadherin puncta are interdigitated dynamic actin protrusions necessary for stable cadherin adhesion

John Xiao He Li, Vivian W. Tang, Kingsley A. Boateng, William M. Brieher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cadherins harness the actin cytoskeleton to build cohesive sheets of cells using paradoxically weak bonds, but the molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. In one popular model, actin organizes cadherins into large, micrometer-sized clusters known as puncta. Myosin is thought to pull on these puncta to generate strong adhesion. Here, however, we show that cadherin puncta are actually interdigitated actin microspikes generated by actin polymerization mediated by three factors (Arp2/3, EVL, and CRMP-1). The convoluted membranes in these regions give the impression of cadherin clustering by fluorescence microscopy, but the ratio of cadherin to membrane is constant. Nevertheless, these interlocking fingers of membrane are important for adhesion because perturbing their formation disrupts cell adhesion. In contrast, blocking myosin-dependent contractility does not disrupt either the interdigitated microspikes or lateral membrane adhesion. “Puncta” are zones of strong cell–cell adhesion not due to cadherin clustering but that occur because the interdigitated microspikes expand the surface area available for adhesive bond formation and increase the asperity of the cell surface to promote friction between cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2023510118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number24
StatePublished - Jun 15 2021


  • Actin
  • Adherens junction
  • Arp2/3
  • E-cadherin
  • Filopodia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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