Mechanotransduction at E-cadherin junctions has been postulated to be mediated in part by a force-dependent conformational activation of α-catenin. Activation of α-catenin allows it to interact with vinculin in addition to F-actin, resulting in a strengthening of junctions. Here, using E-cadherin adhesions reconstituted on synthetic, nanopatterned membranes, we show that activation of α-catenin is dependent on E-cadherin clustering, and is sustained in the absence of mechanical force or association with F-actin or vinculin. Adhesions were formed by filopodia-mediated nucleation and micron-scale assembly of E-cadherin clusters, which could be distinguished as either peripheral or central assemblies depending on their relative location at the cell-bilayer adhesion. Whereas F-actin, vinculin, and phosphorylated myosin light chain associated only with the peripheral assemblies, activated α-catenin was present in both peripheral and central assemblies, and persisted in the central assemblies in the absence of actomyosin tension. Impeding filopodia-mediated nucleation and micron-scale assembly of E-cadherin adhesion complexes by confining the movement of bilayer-bound E-cadherin on nanopatterned substrates reduced the levels of activated α-catenin. Taken together, these results indicate that although the initial activation of α-catenin requires micron-scale clustering that may allow the development of mechanical forces, sustained force is not required for maintaining α-catenin in the active state.
Biswas, K. H., Hartman, K. L., Zaidel-Bar, R., & Groves, J. T. (2016). Sustained α-catenin Activation at E-cadherin Junctions in the Absence of Mechanical Force. Biophysical Journal, 111(5), 1044–1052. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2016.06.027