Loss of α-catenin decreases the strength of single E-cadherin bonds between human cancer cells

Saumendra Bajpai, Yunfeng Feng, Ranjini Krishnamurthy, Gregory D. Longmore, Denis Wirtz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


The progression of several human cancers correlates with the loss of cytoplasmic protein α-catenin from E-cadherin-rich intercellular junctions and loss of adhesion. However, the potential role of α-catenin in directly modulating the adhesive function of individual E-cadherin molecules in human cancer is unknown. Here we use single-molecule force spectroscopy to probe the tensile strength, unstressed bond lifetime, and interaction energy between E-cadherins expressed on the surface of live human parental breast cancer cells lacking α-catenin and these cells where α-catenin is re-expressed. We find that the tensile strength and the lifetime of single E-cadherin/E-cadherin bonds between parental cells are significantly lower over a wide range of loading rates. Statistical analysis of the force displacement spectra reveals that single cadherin bonds between cancer cells feature an exceedingly low energy barrier against tensile forces and low molecular stiffness. Disassembly of filamentous actin using latrunculin B has no significant effect on the strength of single intercellular E-cadherin bonds. The absence of catenin causes a dominant negative effect on both global cell-cell adhesion and single E-cadherin bond strength. These results suggest that the loss of α-catenin alone drastically reduces the adhesive force between individual cadherin pairs on adjoining cells, explain the global loss of cell adhesion in human breast cancer cells, and show that the forced expression of α-catenin in cancer cells can restore both higher intercellular avidity and intercellular E-cadherin bond strength.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18252-18259
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number27
StatePublished - Jul 3 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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