A model for central synaptic junctional complex formation based on the differential adhesive specificities of the cadherins

Neuron. 1996 Sep;17(3):423-34. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(00)80175-0.


Cadherins control critical developmental events through well-documented homophilic interactions. In epithelia, they are hallmark constituents of junctions that mediate intercellular adhesion. Brain tissue expresses several cadherins, and we now show that two of these, neural (N)- and epithelial (E)-cadherin, are localized to synaptic complexes in mutually exclusive distributions. In cerebellum, N-cadherin is frequently found associated with synapses, some of which are perforated, and in hippocampus, N- and E-cadherin-containing synapses are found aligned along dendritic shafts within the stratum lucidum of CA3. We propose that the cadherins function as primary adhesive moieties between pre- and postsynaptic membranes in the synaptic complex. According to this model, once neurites have been guided to the vicinity of their cognate targets, it is the differential distribution of cadherins along the axonal and dendritic plasma membranes, and ultimately cadherin self-association, that "locks in" nascent synaptic connections.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology
  • Cadherins / analysis
  • Cadherins / physiology*
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Chick Embryo
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Neurons / chemistry
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Rabbits
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Synapses / chemistry*
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synapses / ultrastructure
  • Synaptophysin / analysis


  • Cadherins
  • Synaptophysin