The expression of the Ca2+-dependent epithelial cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin (also known as uvomorulin and L-CAM) in the early stages of embryonic development of Xenopus laevis was examined. E-Cadherin was identified in the Xenopus A6 epithelial cell line by antibody cross-reactivity and several biochemical characteristics. Four independent mAbs were generated against purified Xenopus E-cadherin. All four mAbs recognized the same polypeptides in A6 cells, adult epithelial tissues, and embryos. These mAbs inhibited the formation of cell contacts between A6 cells and stained the basolateral plasma membranes of A6 cells, hepatocytes, and alveolar epithelial cells. The time of E-cadherin expression in early Xenopus embryos was determined by immunoblotting. Unlike its expression in early mouse embryos, E-cadherin was not present in the eggs or early blastula of Xenopus laevis. These findings indicate that a different Ca2+-dependent cell adhesion molecule, perhaps another member of the cadherin gene family, is responsible for the Ca2+-dependent adhesion between cleavage stage Xenopus blastomeres. Detectable accumulation of E-cadherin started just before gastrulation at stage 9 1/2 and increased rapidly up to the end of gastrulation at stage 15. In stage 15 embryos, specific immunofluorescence staining of E-cadherin was discernible only in ectoderm, but not in mesoderm and endoderm. The ectoderm at this stage consists of two cell layers. The outer cell layer of ectoderm was stained intensely, and staining was localized to the basolateral plasma membrane of these cells. Lower levels of staining were observed in the inner cell layer of ectoderm. The coincidence of E-cadherin expression with the process of gastrulation and its restriction to the ectoderm indicate that it may play a role in the morphogenetic movements of gastrulation and resulting segregation of embryonic germ layers.

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