The human endothelium forms a permeable barrier between the blood stream and surrounding tissues, strictly governing the passage of immune cells, fluids and metabolites. The regulation of cell-cell contact dynamics between endothelial cells is essential for this function and thus for the maintenance of vascular integrity. Intercellular adhesion within the endothelium is mainly dependent on adherens junctions, composed of cell-cell adhesion proteins such as VE-cadherin and nectin, and their associated proteins. Recent research points to a critical role of the actin cytoskeleton in endothelial integrity, by providing anchorage of adhesion complexes to the cell cortex. We could show that the F-actin-binding protein drebrin is a critical regulator of endothelial integrity, by linking nectin to the cortical actin cytoskeleton. In particular, the knockdown of drebrin leads to functional impairment of endothelial cells, characterized by rupturing of endothelial monolayers cultured under conditions mimicking vascular flow. This weakening of cell-cell contacts upon drebrin depletion is based on the destabilization of nectin at adherens junctions, followed by internalization and degradation in lysosomes. Conducting interaction studies, we showed that drebrin binds to nectin's interaction partner afadin, thus linking the nectin/afadin system to the cortical F-actin network. Drebrin, containing binding sites for both afadin and F-actin, is thus uniquely equipped to stabilize nectin at adherens junctions, thereby preserving endothelial integrity. Collectively, these results contribute to the current understanding of cell-cell junction regulation, introducing a new function of drebrin as a stabilizer of endothelial integrity.
Keywords: Actin cytoskeleton; Adherens junctions; Afadin; Drebrin; Endothelial integrity; Nectin.