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J Biol Chem. 2013 Feb 22;288(8):5694-706. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.438093. Epub 2012 Dec 27.

Specific conserved C-terminal amino acids of Caenorhabditis elegans HMP-1/α-catenin modulate F-actin binding independently of vinculin.

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Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Stable intercellular adhesions formed through the cadherin-catenin complex are important determinants of proper tissue architecture and help maintain tissue integrity during morphogenetic movements in developing embryos. A key regulator of this stability is α-catenin, which connects the cadherin-catenin complex to the actin cytoskeleton. Although the C-terminal F-actin-binding domain of α-catenin has been shown to be crucial for its function, a more detailed in vivo analysis of discrete regions and residues required for actin binding has not been performed. Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a model system, we have characterized mutations in hmp-1/α-catenin that identify HMP-1 residues 687-742 and 826-927, as well as amino acid 802, as critical to the localization of junctional proximal actin during epidermal morphogenesis. We also find that the S823F transition in a hypomorphic allele, hmp-1(fe4), decreases actin binding in vitro. Using hmp-1(fe4) animals in a mutagenesis screen, we were then able to identify 11 intragenic suppressors of hmp-1(fe4) that revert actin binding to wild-type levels. Using homology modeling, we show that these amino acids are positioned at key conserved sites within predicted α-helices in the C terminus. Through the use of transgenic animals, we also demonstrate that HMP-1 residues 315-494, which correspond to a putative mechanotransduction domain that binds vinculin in vertebrate αE-catenin, are not required during epidermal morphogenesis but may aid efficient recruitment of HMP-1 to the junction. Our studies are the first to identify key conserved amino acids in the C terminus of α-catenin that modulate F-actin binding in living embryos of a simple metazoan.

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