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Cell. 2005 Dec 2;123(5):903-15.

Alpha-catenin is a molecular switch that binds E-cadherin-beta-catenin and regulates actin-filament assembly.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


Epithelial cell-cell junctions, organized by adhesion proteins and the underlying actin cytoskeleton, are considered to be stable structures maintaining the structural integrity of tissues. Contrary to the idea that alpha-catenin links the adhesion protein E-cadherin through beta-catenin to the actin cytoskeleton, in the accompanying paper we report that alpha-catenin does not bind simultaneously to both E-cadherin-beta-catenin and actin filaments. Here we demonstrate that alpha-catenin exists as a monomer or a homodimer with different binding properties. Monomeric alpha-catenin binds more strongly to E-cadherin-beta-catenin, whereas the dimer preferentially binds actin filaments. Different molecular conformations are associated with these different binding states, indicating that alpha-catenin is an allosteric protein. Significantly, alpha-catenin directly regulates actin-filament organization by suppressing Arp2/3-mediated actin polymerization, likely by competing with the Arp2/3 complex for binding to actin filaments. These results indicate a new role for alpha-catenin in local regulation of actin assembly and organization at sites of cadherin-mediated cell-cell adhesion.

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