Difference Between Cadherin And Integrin

Cell adhesion molecules play a crucial role in the regulation and structure of cells within the human body. Among these, cadherins and integrins are paramount, facilitating vital interactions at cellular and extracellular levels. Both types of proteins are essential, yet they serve distinct roles that affect how cells adhere and communicate with their environments.

Cadherins are primarily involved in cell-cell adhesion, enabling cells to adhere to one another in a manner that is critical for the formation of tissues and the maintenance of organ integrity. Integrins, on the other hand, manage cell-matrix adhesion, connecting cells to the extracellular matrix and playing a key role in cell signaling and migration. These differences are not just structural but also influence their functional roles in the body.

While both cadherins and integrins are integral to the understanding of cellular behavior and pathology, their unique characteristics and functions highlight the complexity of cellular interactions. These molecules’ implications reach far into processes such as tissue repair, immune response, and even cancer metastasis, reflecting their importance in medical research and therapy development.

Cadherin Overview

Definition and Basic Function

Cadherins are a type of transmembrane protein that are critically involved in cell-cell adhesion, acting as molecular “glue” that allows cells to adhere tightly to each other. These proteins are pivotal in maintaining the structural integrity of tissues throughout an organism. Cadherins function through calcium-dependent interactions, which are essential for their adhesive abilities.

Role in Cell-Cell Adhesion

Cadherins promote cell-cell adhesion through their extracellular domains, which interact with the same type of cadherins on adjacent cells. This interaction is highly specific and contributes to the sorting of cell types during developmental processes. In the human body, E-cadherin (epithelial), N-cadherin (neural), and P-cadherin (placental) are among the most studied, each playing roles in different tissues:

  • E-cadherin is found in epithelial cells, where it helps maintain tissue structure and integrity.
  • N-cadherin is prevalent in nerve and muscle cells, facilitating connections that support nerve and muscle function.
  • P-cadherin is important in the placenta and skin, where it aids in cell layer formation and integrity.
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Integrin Overview

Definition and Basic Function

Integrins are another group of cell adhesion molecules, but unlike cadherins, they mediate cell-extracellular matrix (ECM) adhesion. These are heterodimeric proteins composed of alpha and beta subunits, which work together to bind ECM proteins like fibronectin, collagen, and laminin. Integrins are vital for signal transduction, conveying information from the ECM to the cell, which influences cell behavior, survival, proliferation, and differentiation.

Role in Cell-Matrix Adhesion

Integrins do not merely anchor cells to the ECM but also play a crucial role in the communication network that informs cells about their environment. This interaction is fundamental for processes such as tissue repair, immune response, and cellular migration. For instance:

  • Fibronectin binding integrins are crucial for wound healing and tissue repair.
  • Collagen-binding integrins play significant roles in maintaining skin and bone integrity.

Structural Differences

Protein Structure of Cadherins

The structure of cadherins is characterized by their cadherin repeats, which are extracellular domains essential for their adhesion function. These repeats bind calcium ions that stabilize their extracellular structure and promote adhesion. The intracellular domain of cadherins connects to catenins, which link to the actin cytoskeleton, providing structural integrity to tissues.

Protein Structure of Integrins

Integrins are composed of alpha and beta subunits that form a head and two legs, pivoting at the knees. This structure allows them to interact flexibly with the ECM. The head region binds to the ECM, while the legs are embedded in the cell membrane. The cytoplasmic domains of integrins interact with various proteins that connect to the cytoskeleton and participate in signal transduction.

Functional Distinctions

Cadherin in Tissue Formation

Cadherins are essential for the formation and maintenance of tissue architecture. They regulate cell sorting, boundary formation, and the structural integrity of tissues. For example, in the developing embryo, cadherins help define the boundaries between different types of tissues, which is crucial for proper organ formation.

Integrin in Cell Signaling and Migration

Integrins contribute significantly to cell signaling pathways that regulate cell growth, migration, and survival. They are particularly important in processes like wound healing, where cells must migrate to the wound site. Integrins detect the chemical composition of the ECM and adjust cell movement accordingly, facilitating tissue repair and regeneration.

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Genetic Regulation

Genes Involved in Cadherin Synthesis

The synthesis of cadherins is regulated by a specific set of genes that encode for their protein structure. The most notable gene is the CDH1, responsible for encoding E-cadherin, predominantly found in epithelial cells. Similarly, CDH2 encodes N-cadherin, crucial for neural and muscle tissue, and CDH3 encodes P-cadherin, important in placental and epidermal cells. These genes ensure that cadherins are produced accurately and are available in sufficient quantities to maintain proper cellular adhesion and tissue integrity.

Genes Involved in Integrin Synthesis

Integrin synthesis is controlled by a family of genes that encode the alpha and beta subunits forming the integrin heterodimers. Examples include ITGA and ITGB; each gene in these families corresponds to different alpha and beta subunits, which combine to form various integrin types. For instance, ITGA5 pairs with ITGB1 to form an integrin that binds fibronectin. The regulation of these genes is crucial for producing the appropriate integrin needed for specific cell-matrix interactions.

Interaction with Cytoskeleton

Cadherin and Actin Filaments

Cadherins connect to the cytoskeleton via their intracellular domains, which bind to catenins. Catenins, in turn, link directly to actin filaments, crucial components of the cellular structural framework. This connection allows cadherins not only to adhere cells to each other but also to communicate changes in cellular architecture, contributing to the maintenance of tissue integrity and the transmission of signals that regulate cell behavior.

Integrin and Extracellular Matrix Connections

Integrins connect cells to the extracellular matrix but also play a significant role in signal transduction. The cytoplasmic tails of integrins bind to various intracellular proteins that link to actin filaments of the cytoskeleton. This linkage enables integrins to transmit mechanical signals from the ECM to the cytoskeleton, facilitating cellular responses to environmental changes, such as the stiffness of the extracellular matrix, which is crucial during cellular migration and tissue remodeling.

Clinical Implications

Cadherin in Cancer Metastasis

Alterations in cadherin expression are closely linked to cancer progression and metastasis. The loss of E-cadherin function is often observed in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a key process in the invasion and spread of cancer cells. By understanding how cadherin functions are disrupted in cancer, researchers can identify potential targets for therapy to prevent metastasis and progression of the disease.

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Integrin in Wound Healing

Integrins are vital for wound healing due to their role in cell migration and proliferation. During tissue repair, specific integrins increase in expression to facilitate the migration of cells into the wound area. These integrins bind to ECM proteins, such as fibronectin and collagen, which are abundant in wound matrices, directing the cells to the injury site to promote healing.

Therapeutic Targets

Drugs Targeting Cadherins

The therapeutic targeting of cadherins, particularly in the context of cancer treatment, focuses on modulating their expression or function to prevent tumor cells from disseminating. Some approaches include the development of peptides or antibodies that can restore normal cadherin function in tumor cells or prevent the loss of cadherin-mediated cell-cell adhesion that is typical in metastatic cancers.

Drugs Targeting Integrins

Integrin-targeted therapies are used in various clinical settings, including cancer, fibrosis, and inflammatory diseases. These therapies typically involve antibodies or small molecules that inhibit integrin function, thereby affecting cell adhesion and migration. For example, natalizumab, an antibody used to treat multiple sclerosis, targets integrins involved in the immune response, preventing immune cells from crossing the blood-brain barrier and causing inflammation.


What are Cadherins?

Cadherins are a class of type-1 transmembrane proteins that are involved in cell-cell adhesion, ensuring that cells within tissues stick together. They play a crucial role in maintaining the structure and function of tissues in multicellular organisms.

How do Integrins function?

Integrins are receptors that facilitate cell-extracellular matrix adhesion. They transmit mechanical and chemical signals to the cells, which is essential for cell migration, differentiation, and survival, especially during embryonic development and wound healing.

Why are Cadherins and Integrins important in cancer research?

Both cadherins and integrins are vital in cancer research due to their roles in cell adhesion and migration. Alterations in these molecules can affect tumor progression and metastasis, making them crucial targets for cancer therapy.

Can Cadherins and Integrins serve as drug targets?

Yes, both cadherins and integrins are explored as drug targets in various diseases, including cancer and fibrosis. Therapies that modulate their expression or function are being developed to halt disease progression and spread.


Cadherins and integrins are more than just cellular adhesives; they are pivotal elements that define cellular architecture and communication. Their distinct yet overlapping roles underscore the dynamic interplay between cells and their environments. By understanding these molecules better, researchers can develop more effective therapies for a range of diseases, demonstrating the potential of targeted molecular medicine.

The exploration of cadherins and integrins continues to be a fertile ground for research, offering insights into cellular mechanisms that underpin health and disease. As science advances, the potential to manipulate these molecules for therapeutic benefit holds great promise, marking a significant step forward in the treatment of complex diseases.

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