Dynamic behavior of the cadherin-based cell-cell adhesion system during Drosophila gastrulation

Dev Biol. 1998 Nov 15;203(2):435-50. doi: 10.1006/dbio.1998.9047.


During Drosophila gastrulation, morphogenesis occurs as a series of cell shape changes and cell movements which probably involve adhesive interactions between cells. In the present study, we examined the dynamic aspects of cadherin-based cell-cell adhesion in the morphogenetic events to assess its contribution to morphogenesis. DE- and DN-cadherin show complementary expression patterns in the presumptive ectoderm and mesoderm at the mRNA level. We found that switching of cadherin expression from the DE- to the DN-type in the mesodermal germ layer occurred downstream of the mesoderm-determination genes twist and snail. However, examination of their protein expression patterns showed that considerable amounts of DE-cadherin remained on the surfaces of mesodermal cells during invagination, while DN-cadherin did not appear on the cell surfaces at this stage. Further immunocytochemical analysis of the localizations of DE-cadherin and its associated proteins Armadillo (beta-catenin) and Dalpha-catenin revealed dynamic changes in their distributions which were accompanied by changes in cell morphology in the neuroectoderm and mesoderm. Simultaneously, adherens junctions (AJs), based on the cadherin-catenin system, were shown to change their location, size, and morphology. These dynamic aspects of cadherin-based cell-cell adhesion appeared to be associated with the following: (1) initial establishment of the blastoderm epithelium, (2) acquisition of cell motility in the neuroectoderm, (3) cell sheet folding, and (4) epithelial to mesenchymal conversion of the mesoderm. These observations suggest that the behavior of the DE-cadherin-catenin adhesion system may be regulated in a stepwise manner during gastrulation to perform successive cell-morphology conversions. Moreover, the processes responsible for loss of epithelial cell polarity and elimination of preexisting DE-cadherin-based epithelial junctions during early mesodermal morphogenesis are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Armadillos / metabolism
  • Blastoderm / metabolism
  • Cadherins / metabolism*
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology*
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism
  • Drosophila / embryology*
  • Ectoderm / metabolism
  • Gastrula / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / genetics
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Morphogenesis / physiology
  • Mutation / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • alpha Catenin


  • Cadherins
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • alpha Catenin