Adherens junctions (AJs) are mechanosensitive cadherin-based intercellular adhesions that interact with the actin cytoskeleton and carry most of the mechanical load at cell–cell junctions. Both Arp2/3 complex–dependent actin polymerization generating pushing force and nonmuscle myosin II (NMII)-dependent contraction producing pulling force are necessary for AJ morphogenesis. Which actin system directly interacts with AJs is unknown. Using platinum replica electron microscopy of endothelial cells, we show that vascular endothelial (VE)-cadherin colocalizes with Arp2/3 complex–positive actin networks at different AJ types and is positioned at the interface between two oppositely oriented branched networks from adjacent cells. In contrast, actin–NMII bundles are located more distally from the VE-cadherin–rich zone. After Arp2/3 complex inhibition, linear AJs split, leaving gaps between cells with detergent-insoluble VE-cadherin transiently associated with the gap edges. After NMII inhibition, VE-cadherin is lost from gap edges. We propose that the actin cytoskeleton at AJs acts as a dynamic push–pull system, wherein pushing forces maintain extracellular VE-cadherin transinteraction and pulling forces stabilize intracellular adhesion complexes.
- Submitted: 15 August 2017
- Revision received 21 December 2017
- Accepted: 12 February 2018