Cadherins play an important role in specific cell-cell adhesion events. Their expression appears to be tightly regulated during development and each tissue or cell type shows a characteristic pattern of cadherin molecules. Inappropriate regulation of their expression levels or functionality has been observed in human malignancies, in many cases leading to aggravated cancer cell invasion and metastasis. The cadherins form a superfamily with at least six subfamilies, which can be distinguished on the basis of protein domain composition, genomic structure, and phylogenetic analysis of the protein sequences. These subfamilies comprise classical or type-I cadherins, atypical or type-II cadherins, desmocollins, desmogleins, protocadherins and Flamingo cadherins. In addition, several cadherins clearly occupy isolated positions in the cadherin superfamily (cadherin-13, -15, -16, -17, Dachsous, RET, FAT, MEGF1 and most invertebrate cadherins). We suggest a different evolutionary origin of the protocadherin and Flamingo cadherin genes versus the genes encoding desmogleins, desmocollins, classical cadherins, and atypical cadherins. The present phylogenetic analysis may accelerate the functional investigation of the whole cadherin superfamily by allowing focused research of prototype cadherins within each subfamily.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.