The epithelium is one of the most abundant tissues in metazoans. It is required to generate stable chemical and mechanical barriers between physiological compartments (fluid matrix/external environment). This function is based on multiple intercellular junctions, which insulate and stabilize cell-cell contacts in the tissue. Despite this apparent robustness, epithelia can be extensively remodeled during wound healing, embryogenesis and tumor progression. The capacity to be remodeled while keeping tissue cohesion requires a perfect balance between stability and plasticity of intercellular junctions. The balance is partially regulated by intercellular adhesion, which is mostly based on adherens junctions and the transmembrane protein E-cadherin. The aim of this review is to report the molecular basis of the balance between plasticity and robustness in the epithelium. We will first present the minimal physical framework used to describe epithelial cell shape. We will then describe the main processes involved in intercellular adhesion regulation and their functions during epithelial morphogenesis. Eventually, we will analyze the relationship and the coupling between adhesive forces and cortical tension.
© Société de Biologie, 2012.