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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Aug 7;109(32):13046-51. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1120685109. Epub 2012 Jul 25.

Origin of metazoan cadherin diversity and the antiquity of the classical cadherin/β-catenin complex.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Denver, Denver, CO 80208, USA.


The evolution of cadherins, which are essential for metazoan multicellularity and restricted to metazoans and their closest relatives, has special relevance for understanding metazoan origins. To reconstruct the ancestry and evolution of cadherin gene families, we analyzed the genomes of the choanoflagellate Salpingoeca rosetta, the unicellular outgroup of choanoflagellates and metazoans Capsaspora owczarzaki, and a draft genome assembly from the homoscleromorph sponge Oscarella carmela. Our finding of a cadherin gene in C. owczarzaki reveals that cadherins predate the divergence of the C. owczarzaki, choanoflagellate, and metazoan lineages. Data from these analyses also suggest that the last common ancestor of metazoans and choanoflagellates contained representatives of at least three cadherin families, lefftyrin, coherin, and hedgling. Additionally, we find that an O. carmela classical cadherin has predicted structural features that, in bilaterian classical cadherins, facilitate binding to the cytoplasmic protein β-catenin and, thereby, promote cadherin-mediated cell adhesion. In contrast with premetazoan cadherin families (i.e., those conserved between choanoflagellates and metazoans), the later appearance of classical cadherins coincides with metazoan origins.

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