Morphogenesis is a shape-building process during development of multicellular organisms. During this process the establishment and modulation of cell-cell contacts play an important role. Cadherins, the major cell adhesion molecules, form adherens junctions connecting epithelial cells. Numerous studies in Bilateria have shown that cadherins are associated with the regulation of cell differentiation, cell shape changes, cell migration and tissue morphogenesis. To date, the role of Cadherins in non-bilaterians is unknown. Here, we study the expression and the function of two paralogous classical cadherins, cadherin1 and cadherin3, in the diploblastic animal, the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. We show that a cadherin switch is accompanying the formation of germ layers. Using specific antibodies, we show that both cadherins are localized to adherens junctions at apical and basal positions in ectoderm and endoderm. During gastrulation, partial EMT of endodermal cells is marked by a step-wise downregulation of cadherin3 and upregulation of cadherin1. Knockdown experiments show that both cadherins are required for maintenance of tissue integrity and tissue morphogenesis. This demonstrates that cnidarians convergently use cadherins to differentially control morphogenetic events during development.
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