Emerging roles of protocadherins: from self-avoidance to enhancement of motility.
Hayashi S., Takeichi M.
Protocadherins are a group of transmembrane proteins belonging to the cadherin superfamily that are subgrouped into 'clustered' and 'non-clustered' protocadherins. Although cadherin superfamily members are known to regulate various forms of cell-cell interactions, including cell-cell adhesion, the functions of protocadherins have long been elusive. Recent studies are, however, uncovering their unique roles. The clustered protocadherins regulate neuronal survival, as well as dendrite self-avoidance. Combinatorial expression of clustered protocadherin isoforms creates a great diversity of adhesive specificity for cells, and this process is likely to underlie the dendritic self-avoidance. Non-clustered protocadherins promote cell motility rather than the stabilization of cell adhesion, unlike the classic cadherins, and mediate dynamic cellular processes, such as growth cone migration. Protocadherin dysfunction in humans is implicated in neurological disorders, such as epilepsy and mental retardation. This Commentary provides an overview of recent findings regarding protocadherin functions, as well as a discussion of the molecular basis underlying these functions.