The cadherin/catenin complex plays important roles in cell adhesion, signal transduction, as well as the initiation and maintenance of structural and functional organization of cells and tissues. In the preceding study, we showed that the assembly of the cadherin/catenin complex is temporally regulated, and that novel combinations of catenin and cadherin complexes are formed in both Triton X-100-soluble and -insoluble fractions; we proposed a model in which pools of catenins are important in regulating assembly of E-cadherin/catenin and catenin complexes. Here, we sought to determine the spatial distributions of E-cadherin, alpha-catenin, beta-catenin, and plakoglobin, and whether different complexes of these proteins accumulate at steady state in polarized Madin-Darby canine kidney cells. Protein distributions were visualized by wide field, optical sectioning, and double immunofluorescence microscopy, followed by reconstruction of three-dimensional images. In cells that were extracted with Triton X-100 and then fixed (Triton X-100-insoluble fraction), more E-cadherin was concentrated at the apical junction relative to other areas of the lateral membrane. alpha-Catenin and beta-catenin colocalize with E-cadherin at the apical junctional complex. There is some overlap in the distribution of these proteins in the lateral membrane, but there are also areas where the distributions are distinct. Plakoglobin is excluded from the apical junctional complex, and its distribution in the lateral membrane is different from that of E-cadherin. Cells were also fixed and then permeabilized to reveal the total cellular pool of each protein (Triton X-100-soluble and -insoluble fractions). This analysis showed lateral membrane localization of alpha-catenin, beta-catenin, and plakoglobin, and it also revealed that they are distributed throughout the cell. Chemical cross-linking of proteins and analysis with specific antibodies confirmed the presence at steady state of E-cadherin/catenin complexes containing either beta-catenin or plakoglobin, and catenin complexes devoid of E-cadherin. Complexes containing E-cadherin/beta-catenin and E-cadherin/alpha-catenin are present in both the Triton X-100-soluble and -insoluble fractions, but E-cadherin/plakoglobin complexes are not detected in the Triton X-100-insoluble fraction. Taken together, these results show that different complexes of cadherin and catenins accumulate in fully polarized epithelial cells, and that they distribute to different sites. We suggest that cadherin/catenin and catenin complexes at different sites have specialized roles in establishing and maintaining the structural and functional organization of polarized epithelial cells.

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