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J Biol Chem. 2006 Aug 11;281(32):23138-49. Epub 2006 May 8.

N-glycosylation affects the molecular organization and stability of E-cadherin junctions.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, School of Dental Medicine, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02118, USA.


Epithelial cell-cell adhesion is mediated by E-cadherin, an intercellular N-glycoprotein adhesion receptor that functions in the assembly of multiprotein complexes anchored to the actin cytoskeleton named adherens junctions (AJs). E-cadherin ectodomains 4 and 5 contain three potential N-glycan addition sites, although their significance in AJ stability is unclear. Here we show that sparse cells lacking stable AJs produced E-cadherin that was extensively modified with complex N-glycans. In contrast, dense cultures with more stable AJs had scarcely N-glycosylated E-cadherin modified with high mannose/hybrid and limited complex N-glycans. This suggested that variations in AJ stability were accompanied by quantitative and qualitative changes in E-cadherin N-glycosylation. To further examine the role of N-glycans in AJ function, we generated E-cadherin N-glycosylation variants lacking selected N-glycan addition sites. Characterization of these variants in CHO cells, lacking endogenous E-cadherin, revealed that site 1 on ectodomain 4 was modified with a prominent complex N-glycan, site 2 on ectodomain 5 did not have a substantial oligosaccharide, and site 3 on ectodomain 5 was decorated with a high mannose/hybrid N-glycan. Removal of complex N-glycan from ectodomain 4 led to a dramatically increased interaction of E-cadherin-catenin complexes with vinculin and the actin cytoskeleton. The latter effect was further enhanced by the deletion of the high mannose/hybrid N-glycan from site 3. In MDCK cells, which produce E-cadherin, a variant lacking both complex and high mannose/hybrid N-glycans functioned like a dominant positive displaying increased interaction with gamma-catenin and vinculin compared with the endogenous E-cadherin. Collectively, our studies show that N-glycans, and complex oligosaccharides in particular, destabilize AJs by affecting their molecular organization.

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