The carboxyl terminus-truncated cadherin (nonfunctional cadherin) has no cell adhesion activity probably because of its failure to associate with cytoplasmic proteins called alpha and beta catenin. To rescue this nonfunctional cadherin as adhesion molecules, we constructed three cDNAs for fusion proteins between nonfunctional E-cadherin and alpha catenin, nE alpha, nE alpha N, and nE alpha C, where the intact, amino-terminal and carboxy-terminal half of alpha catenin, respectively, were directly linked to the nonfunctional E-cadherin, and introduced them into mouse L cells. The subcellular distribution and cell adhesion activity of nE alpha and nE alpha C molecules was similar to those of intact E-cadherin transfectants: they bound to cytoskeletons, were concentrated at cell-cell adhesion sites and showed strong cell adhesion activity. nE alpha N molecules, which also bound to cytoskeletons, showed very poor cell adhesion activity. Taken together, we conclude that in the formation of the cadherin-catenin complex, the mechanical association of alpha catenin, especially its carboxy-terminal half, with E-cadherin is a key step for the cadherin-mediated cell adhesion. Close comparison revealed that the behavior of nE alpha molecules during cytokinesis was quite different from that of intact E-cadherin, and that the intercellular motility, i.e., the cell movement in a confluent sheet, was significantly suppressed in nE alpha transfectants although it was facilitated in E-cadherin transfectants. Considering that nE alpha was not associated with endogenous beta catenin in transfectants, the difference in the nature of cell adhesion between nE alpha and intact E-cadherin transfectants may be explained by the function of beta catenin. The possible functions of beta catenin are discussed with a special reference to its role as a negative regulator for the cadherin-mediated cell adhesion system.

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