Modulators of cadherin function are of great interest given that the cadherin complex actively contributes to the morphogenesis of virtually all tissues. The catenin p120(ctn) (formerly p120cas) was first identified as a src- and receptor-protein tyrosine kinase substrate and later shown to interact directly with cadherins. In common with beta-catenin and plakoglobin (gamma-catenin), p120(ctn) contains a central Armadillo repeat region by which it binds cadherin cytoplasmic domains. However, little is known about the function of p120(ctn) within the cadherin complex. We examined the role of p120(ctn)1A in early vertebrate development via its exogenous expression in Xenopus. Ventral overexpression of p120(ctn)1A, in contrast to beta-catenin, did not induce the formation of duplicate axial structures resulting from the activation of the Wnt signaling pathway, nor did p120(ctn) affect mesoderm induction. Rather, dorsal misexpression of p120(ctn) specifically perturbed gastrulation. Lineage tracing of cells expressing exogenous p120(ctn) indicated that cell movements were disrupted, while in vitro studies suggested that this may have been a consequence of reduced adhesion between blastomeres. Thus, while cadherin-binding proteins beta-catenin, plakoglobin, and p120(ctn) are members of the Armadillo protein family, it is clear that these proteins have distinct biological functions in early vertebrate development. This work indicates that p120(ctn) has a role in cadherin function and that heightened expression of p120(ctn) interferes with appropriate cell-cell interactions necessary for morphogenesis.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.