Vertebrate adherens junctions mediate cell-cell adhesion via a "classical" cadherin-catenin "core" complex, which is associated with and regulated by a functional network of proteins, collectively named the cadherin adhesome ("cadhesome"). The most basal metazoans have been shown to conserve the cadherin-catenin "core", but little is known about the evolution of the cadhesome. Using a bioinformatics approach based on both sequence and structural analysis, we have traced the evolution of this larger network in 26 organisms, from the uni-cellular ancestors of metazoans, through basal metazoans, to vertebrates. Surprisingly, we show that approximately 70% of the cadhesome, including proteins with similarity to the catenins, predate metazoans. We found that the transition to multicellularity was accompanied by the appearance of a small number of adaptor proteins, and we show how these proteins may have helped to integrate pre-metazoan sub-networks via PDZ domain-peptide interactions. Finally, we found the increase in network complexity in higher metazoans to have been driven primarily by expansion of paralogs. In summary, our analysis helps to explain how the complex protein network associated with cadherin at adherens junctions first came together in the first metazoan and how it evolved into the even more complex mammalian cadhesome.
Keywords: adherens junction; cadherin; evolution; multicellularity; protein interaction network.
© 2014. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.