Cadherins represent a gene family of Ca(2+)-dependent cell adhesion molecules (CAMs) identified during development and in adult organs. They generally mediate cell-cell adhesion by homotypic interaction, although heterotypic binding between different cadherin molecules is possible. Molecular cloning and sequence comparison has led to the characterization of a highly homologous group of 'classical' cadherins and more distantly related members, together composing a gene superfamily. The classical cadherins are transmembrane glycoproteins which exhibit, in addition to the structural homologies, a very similar overall protein topology. Protein sequence comparison has led to the identification of domains of common functional importance. The cytoplasmic domains of cadherins associate with peripheral cytoplasmic proteins termed catenin alpha, beta and gamma with molecular weights of 102, 88 and 80 kDa respectively. This complex formation seems to regulate the adhesive function of cadherins, most likely by connecting cadherins with actin microfilaments. Possible implications of catenins for cadherin function are discussed.