Open Access Research article

Adherens junctions connect stress fibres between adjacent endothelial cells

Jaime Millán12*, Robert J Cain3, Natalia Reglero-Real2, Carolina Bigarella1, Beatriz Marcos-Ramiro2, Laura Fernández-Martín2, Isabel Correas2 and Anne J Ridley13

Author Affiliations

1 University College London, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, London WC1E 6BT, UK

2 Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa, CSIC-Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Cantoblanco, 28049 Madrid, Spain

3 Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics, King's College London, New Hunt's House, Guy's Campus, London SE1 1UL, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Biology 2010, 8:11  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-11

Published: 2 February 2010



Endothelial cell-cell junctions maintain endothelial integrity and regulate vascular morphogenesis and homeostasis. Cell-cell junctions are usually depicted with a linear morphology along the boundaries between adjacent cells and in contact with cortical F-actin. However, in the endothelium, cell-cell junctions are highly dynamic and morphologically heterogeneous.


We report that endothelial cell-cell junctions can attach to the ends of stress fibres instead of to cortical F-actin, forming structures that we name discontinuous adherens junctions (AJ). Discontinuous AJ are highly dynamic and are increased in response to tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α, correlating with the appearance of stress fibres. We show that vascular endothelial (VE)-cadherin/β-catenin/α-catenin complexes in discontinuous AJ are linked to stress fibres. Moreover, discontinuous AJ connect stress fibres from adjacent cells independently of focal adhesions, of which there are very few in confluent endothelial cells, even in TNF-α-stimulated cells. RNAi-mediated knockdown of VE-cadherin, but not zonula occludens-1, reduces the linkage of stress fibres to cell-cell junctions, increases focal adhesions, and dramatically alters the distribution of these actin cables in confluent endothelial cells.


Our results indicate that stress fibres from neighbouring cells are physically connected through discontinuous AJ, and that stress fibres can be stabilized by AJ-associated multi-protein complexes distinct from focal adhesions.