Cadherins are cell-surface glycoproteins responsible for Ca2+-dependent cell-to-cell adhesion. E- or P-cadherin was transfected into L cells, which normally have little cadherin activity, and cellular aggregation of the resulting transfectants was observed to be a function of the cadherin molecule expressed. Transfected cells preferentially adhered to cells expressing the same cadherin subclass. Furthermore, in reconstituted embryonic lung tissue, E-cadherin-expressing L cells were associated with epithelial tubules expressing E-cadherin, while untransfected L cells associated with mesenchymal cells. These results provide the first direct evidence that the differential expression of cadherins can play a role in cell sorting in heterogeneous cell populations.