Active tension: the role of cadherin adhesion and signaling in generating junctional contractility

Curr Top Dev Biol. 2015;112:65-102. doi: 10.1016/bs.ctdb.2014.11.016. Epub 2015 Feb 12.


In this chapter, we discuss the cell biology of contractility at cell-cell junctions. As discussed elsewhere in this volume, contractile forces play key roles in development and tissue homeostasis. Here, we review our understanding of the cellular mechanisms that functionally and physically link cadherin adhesion to the actomyosin contractile apparatus of the cell. Focusing on epithelia, we argue that E-cadherin junctions can be considered as active mechanical agents, which contribute to the assembly of actomyosin at the junctional cortex itself. This reflects cortical signaling, notably that regulated by the Rho GTPase, coordinated with actin regulation at junctions. The product, contractile tension at junctions, can then be regarded as an emergent property of a complex dynamical system that integrates adhesion with the cytoskeleton.

Keywords: Actomyosin; Cadherin; Cytoskeleton; Signaling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / metabolism*
  • Actomyosin / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Cadherins / metabolism*
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Junctions / metabolism*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Cadherins
  • Actomyosin