E-cadherin plays an essential role in collective directional migration of large epithelial sheets

Li Li, Robert Hartley, Bjoern Reiss, Yaohui Sun, Jin Pu, Dan Wu, Francis Lin, Trung Hoang, Soichiro Yamada, Jianxin Jiang, Min Zhao, Jin Pu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Citations (Scopus)


In wound healing and development, large epithelial sheets migrate collectively, in defined directions, and maintain tight cell-cell adhesion. This type of movement ensures an essential function of epithelia, a barrier, which is lost when cells lose connection and move in isolation. Unless wounded, epithelial sheets in cultures normally do not have overall directional migration. Cell migration is mostly studied when cells are in isolation and in the absence of mature cell-cell adhesion; the mechanisms of the migration of epithelial sheets are less well understood. We used small electric fields (EFs) as a directional cue to instigate and guide migration of epithelial sheets. Significantly, cells in monolayer migrated far more efficiently and directionally than cells in isolation or smaller cell clusters. We demonstrated for the first time the group size-dependent directional migratory response in several types of epithelial cells. Gap junctions made a minimal contribution to the directional collective migration. Breaking down calcium-dependent cell-cell adhesion significantly reduced directional sheet migration. Furthermore, E-cadherin blocking antibodies abolished migration of cell sheets. Traction force analysis revealed an important role of forces that cells in the leading rows exert on the substratum. With EF, the traction forces of the leading edge cells coordinated in directional re-orientation. Our study thus identifies a novel mechanism--E-cadherin dependence and coordinated traction forces of leading cells in collective directional migration of large epithelial sheets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2779-2789
Number of pages11
JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012


  • animals
  • cadherins
  • cattle
  • cell adhesion
  • cell communication
  • cell movement
  • cells, cultured
  • dogs
  • electric conductivity
  • epithelium, corneal
  • gap junctions
  • kidney
  • rats
  • trachea


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