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Int Rev Cell Mol Biol. 2013;303:27-99. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-407697-6.00002-7.

Dynamics and regulation of epithelial adherens junctions: recent discoveries and controversies.

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Department of Human and Molecular Genetics, Virginia Institute of Molecular Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Richmond, VA 23298, USA.


Adherens junctions (AJs) are evolutionarily conserved plasma-membrane structures that mediate cell-cell adhesions in multicellular organisms. They are organized by several types of adhesive integral membrane proteins, most notably cadherins and nectins that are clustered and stabilized by a number of cytoplasmic scaffolds. AJs are key regulators of tissue architecture and dynamics via control of cell proliferation, polarity, shape, motility, and survival. They are absolutely critical for normal tissue morphogenesis and their disruption results in pathological abnormalities in different tissues. Although the field of adherens-junction research dramatically progressed in recent years, a number of important questions remain controversial and poorly understood. This review outlines basic principles that regulate organization of AJs in mammalian epithelia and discusses recent advances and standing controversies in the field. A special attention is paid to the regulation of AJs by vesicle trafficking and the intracellular cytoskeleton as well as roles and mechanisms of adherens-junction disruption during tumor progression and tissue inflammation.

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