E-cadherin vs. N-cadherin

What's the Difference?

E-cadherin and N-cadherin are both cell adhesion molecules that play crucial roles in cell-cell interactions and tissue organization. However, they differ in their tissue distribution and functional properties. E-cadherin is predominantly found in epithelial tissues and is responsible for maintaining the integrity and polarity of these tissues. It is involved in the formation of adherens junctions and plays a crucial role in cell adhesion and signaling. On the other hand, N-cadherin is mainly expressed in neural tissues and is involved in processes such as neuronal migration, axon guidance, and synapse formation. N-cadherin is also known to promote cell motility and invasion in certain cancer types. Overall, while both E-cadherin and N-cadherin are important for cell adhesion, they have distinct roles and tissue distributions.


FunctionCell adhesion moleculeCell adhesion molecule
LocationPrimarily found in epithelial cellsFound in various cell types
Binding specificityHomophilic binding (binds to other E-cadherin molecules)Homophilic binding (binds to other N-cadherin molecules)
ExpressionExpressed in most epithelial tissuesExpressed in various tissues including neural and muscle tissues
Function in developmentPlays a crucial role in epithelial cell differentiation and tissue morphogenesisInvolved in neural development and muscle cell differentiation
Function in cancerLoss or dysfunction can contribute to tumor progression and metastasisCan promote invasion and metastasis in certain cancers

Further Detail


Cadherins are a family of transmembrane proteins that play a crucial role in cell-cell adhesion and tissue integrity. Among the various types of cadherins, E-cadherin and N-cadherin are two prominent members that exhibit distinct attributes and functions. In this article, we will delve into the similarities and differences between E-cadherin and N-cadherin, shedding light on their structural characteristics, tissue distribution, signaling pathways, and implications in various biological processes.

Structural Characteristics

E-cadherin and N-cadherin share a common structural framework, consisting of an extracellular domain, a transmembrane domain, and a cytoplasmic domain. However, they differ in their extracellular domains. E-cadherin possesses five extracellular cadherin (EC) repeats, while N-cadherin has only three. These EC repeats are responsible for calcium-dependent homophilic binding, enabling cadherins to interact with each other on adjacent cells.

Furthermore, the cytoplasmic domains of E-cadherin and N-cadherin exhibit dissimilarities. E-cadherin's cytoplasmic domain interacts with various intracellular proteins, such as β-catenin and α-catenin, forming the E-cadherin-catenin complex. This complex plays a crucial role in linking cadherins to the actin cytoskeleton, thereby mediating cell adhesion and signaling. In contrast, N-cadherin's cytoplasmic domain interacts with different signaling molecules, including F-actin-binding proteins and kinases, facilitating the regulation of cell migration, neurite outgrowth, and synaptic plasticity.

Tissue Distribution

E-cadherin is predominantly expressed in epithelial tissues, where it plays a vital role in maintaining tissue integrity and polarity. It is found in various organs, including the skin, intestine, liver, and kidney. E-cadherin-mediated cell adhesion is crucial for the formation and maintenance of epithelial barriers, preventing the invasion of pathogens and maintaining tissue homeostasis.

On the other hand, N-cadherin is primarily expressed in tissues of mesenchymal origin, such as the heart, skeletal muscle, and nervous system. In the heart, N-cadherin is essential for proper cell-cell adhesion between cardiomyocytes, ensuring coordinated contraction and electrical coupling. In the nervous system, N-cadherin is involved in synapse formation, neuronal migration, and axon guidance, contributing to the establishment and plasticity of neural circuits.

Signaling Pathways

E-cadherin and N-cadherin engage in distinct signaling pathways, leading to diverse cellular responses. E-cadherin signaling primarily involves the β-catenin pathway, which regulates gene expression and cell proliferation. In the absence of Wnt signaling, β-catenin forms a complex with E-cadherin and α-catenin, promoting cell-cell adhesion and maintaining epithelial integrity. However, upon Wnt activation, β-catenin dissociates from the E-cadherin complex, translocates to the nucleus, and regulates the transcription of target genes involved in cell fate determination and tissue development.

In contrast, N-cadherin signaling is associated with various intracellular signaling cascades, including the Rho GTPase pathway and the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. N-cadherin engagement activates Rho GTPases, such as RhoA and Rac1, which regulate actin cytoskeleton dynamics, cell migration, and tissue morphogenesis. Additionally, N-cadherin-mediated activation of MAPK signaling contributes to cell survival, proliferation, and differentiation in various cell types.

Biological Implications

The distinct attributes of E-cadherin and N-cadherin have significant implications in various biological processes. E-cadherin's role in epithelial tissues is crucial for embryonic development, tissue morphogenesis, and wound healing. Loss or dysfunction of E-cadherin is associated with epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process implicated in cancer metastasis, where cells lose their epithelial characteristics and acquire a migratory and invasive phenotype.

On the other hand, N-cadherin's involvement in mesenchymal tissues and the nervous system highlights its importance in processes such as heart development, muscle regeneration, and neural plasticity. N-cadherin upregulation is observed in various cancers, including melanoma and glioblastoma, where it promotes tumor cell invasion and resistance to therapy.


In conclusion, E-cadherin and N-cadherin are two distinct members of the cadherin family, each with unique attributes and functions. While E-cadherin primarily mediates cell-cell adhesion in epithelial tissues, N-cadherin plays a crucial role in mesenchymal tissues and the nervous system. Their differential signaling pathways and tissue distributions contribute to their diverse biological implications, ranging from embryonic development to cancer progression. Understanding the characteristics and functions of E-cadherin and N-cadherin provides valuable insights into the complex mechanisms underlying cell adhesion, tissue integrity, and disease pathogenesis.

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