The Journal of cell biology

A complex of Protocadherin-19 and N-cadherin mediates a novel mechanism of cell adhesion.

PMID 22184198


During embryonic morphogenesis, adhesion molecules are required for selective cell-cell interactions. The classical cadherins mediate homophilic calcium-dependent cell adhesion and are founding members of the large and diverse cadherin superfamily. The protocadherins are the largest subgroup within this superfamily, yet their participation in calcium-dependent cell adhesion is uncertain. In this paper, we demonstrate a novel mechanism of adhesion, mediated by a complex of Protocadherin-19 (Pcdh19) and N-cadherin (Ncad). Although Pcdh19 alone is only weakly adhesive, the Pcdh19-Ncad complex exhibited robust adhesion in bead aggregation assays, and Pcdh19 appeared to play the dominant role. Adhesion by the Pcdh19-Ncad complex was unaffected by mutations that disrupt Ncad homophilic binding but was inhibited by a mutation in Pcdh19. In addition, the complex exhibited homophilic specificity, as beads coated with Pcdh19-Ncad did not intermix with Ncad- or Pcdh17-Ncad-coated beads. We propose a model in which association of a protocadherin with Ncad acts as a switch, converting between distinct binding specificities.