Calcium-dependent cell-cell adhesion is mediated by the cadherin family of cell adhesion proteins. Transduction of cadherin adhesion into cellular reorganization is regulated by cytosolic proteins, termed alpha-, beta-, and gamma-catenin (plakoglobin), that bind to the cytoplasmic domain of cadherins and link them to the cytoskeleton. Previous studies of cadherin/catenin complex assembly and organization relied on the coimmunoprecipitation of the complex with cadherin antibodies, and were limited to the analysis of the Triton X-100 (TX-100)-soluble fraction of these proteins. These studies concluded that only one complex exists which contains cadherin and all of the catenins. We raised antibodies specific for each catenin to analyze each protein independent of its association with E-cadherin. Extracts of Madin-Darby canine kidney epithelial cells were sequentially immunoprecipitated and immunoblotted with each antibody, and the results showed that there were complexes of E-cadherin/alpha-catenin, and either beta-catenin or plakoglobin in the TX-100-soluble fraction. We analyzed the assembly of cadherin/catenin complexes in the TX-100-soluble fraction by [35S]methionine pulse-chase labeling, followed by sucrose density gradient fractionation of proteins. Immediately after synthesis, E-cadherin, beta-catenin, and plakoglobin cosedimented as complexes. alpha-Catenin was not associated with these complexes after synthesis, but a subpopulation of alpha-catenin joined the complex at a time coincident with the arrival of E-cadherin at the plasma membrane. The arrival of E-cadherin at the plasma membrane coincided with an increase in its insolubility in TX-100, but extraction of this insoluble pool with 1% SDS disrupted the cadherin/catenin complex. Therefore, to examine protein complex assembly in both the TX-100-soluble and -insoluble fractions, we used [35S]methionine labeling followed by chemical cross-linking before cell extraction. Analysis of cross-linked complexes from cells labeled to steady state indicates that, in addition to cadherin/catenin complexes, there were cadherin-independent pools of catenins present in both the TX-100-soluble and -insoluble fractions. Metabolic labeling followed by chase showed that immediately after synthesis, cadherin/beta-catenin, and cadherin/plakoglobin complexes were present in the TX-100-soluble fraction. Approximately 50% of complexes were titrated into the TX-100-insoluble fraction coincident with the arrival of the complexes at the plasma membrane and the assembly of alpha-catenin. Subsequently, > 90% of labeled cadherin, but no additional labeled catenin complexes, entered the TX-100-insoluble fraction.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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