Cadherins in neuronal morphogenesis and function




Classic cadherins represent a family of calcium-dependent homophilic cell–cell adhesion molecules. They confer strong adhesiveness to animal cells when they are anchored to the actin cytoskeleton via their cytoplasmic binding partners, catenins. The cadherin/catenin adhesion system plays key roles in the morphogenesis and function of the vertebrate and invertebrate nervous systems. In early vertebrate development, cadherins are involved in multiple events of brain morphogenesis including the formation and maintenance of the neuroepithelium, neurite extension and migration of neuronal cells. In the invertebrate nervous system, classic cadherin-mediated cell–cell interaction plays important roles in wiring among neurons. For synaptogenesis, the cadherin/catenin system not only stabilizes cell–cell contacts at excitatory synapses but also assembles synaptic molecules at synaptic sites. Furthermore, this system is involved in synaptic plasticity. Recent studies on the role of individual cadherin subtypes at synapses indicate that individual cadherin subtypes play their own unique role to regulate synaptic activities.