Adherens junctions are specialized forms of cadherin-based adhesive contacts important for tissue organization in developing and adult organisms. Cadherins form protein complexes with cytoplasmic proteins (catenins) that convert the specific, homophilic-binding capacity of the extracellular domain into stable cell adhesion. The extracellular domains of cadherins form parallel dimers that possess intrinsic homophilic-binding activity. Cytoplasmic interactions can influence the function of the ectodomain by a number of potential mechanisms, including redistribution of binding sites into clusters, providing cytoskeletal anchorage, and mediating physiological regulation of cadherin function. Adherens junctions are likely to serve specific, specialized functions beyond the basic adhesive process. These functions include coupling cytoskeletal force generation to strongly adherent sites on the cell surface and the regulation of intracellular signaling events.