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Science 331 (6022): 1336-1339

Copyright © 2011 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

A Polarized Epithelium Organized by β- and α-Catenin Predates Cadherin and Metazoan Origins

Daniel J. Dickinson,1 W. James Nelson,1,2,3,* William I. Weis1,3,4,*

Abstract: A fundamental characteristic of metazoans is the formation of a simple, polarized epithelium. In higher animals, the structural integrity and functional polarization of simple epithelia require a cell-cell adhesion complex that contains a classical cadherin, the Wnt-signaling protein β-catenin and the actin-binding protein α-catenin. We show that the non-metazoan Dictyostelium discoideum forms a polarized epithelium that is essential for multicellular development. Although D. discoideum lacks a cadherin homolog, we identify an α-catenin ortholog that binds a β-catenin–related protein. Both proteins are essential for formation of the epithelium, polarized protein secretion, and proper multicellular morphogenesis. Thus, the organizational principles of metazoan multicellularity may be more ancient than previously recognized, and the role of the catenins in cell polarity predates the evolution of Wnt signaling and classical cadherins.

1 Program in Cancer Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.
2 Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.
3 Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.
4 Department of Structural Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: wjnelson{at} (W.J.N.); bill.weis{at} (W.I.W.)

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