Cadherin is a cell-surface transmembrane receptor that mediates calcium-dependent cell-cell adhesion and is a major component of adhesive junctions. The formation of intercellular adhesive junctions is initiated by trans binding between cadherins on adjacent cells, which is followed by the clustering of cadherins via the formation of cis interactions between cadherins on the same cell membranes. Moreover, classical cadherins have multiple glycosylation sites along their extracellular regions. It was found that aberrant glycosylation affects the adhesive function of cadherins and correlates with metastatic phenotypes of several cancers. However, a mechanistic understanding of cadherin clustering during cell adhesion and the role of glycosylation in this process is still lacking. Here, we designed a kinetic model that includes multistep reaction pathways for cadherin clustering. We further applied a diffusion-reaction algorithm to numerically simulate the clustering process using a recently developed coarse-grained model. Using experimentally measured rates of trans binding between soluble E-cadherin extracellular domains, we conducted simulations of cadherin-mediated cell-cell binding kinetics, and the results are quantitatively comparable to experimental data from micropipette experiments. In addition, we show that incorporating cadherin clustering via cis interactions further increases intercellular binding. Interestingly, a two-phase kinetic profile was derived under the assumption that glycosylation regulates the kinetic rates of cis interactions. This two-phase profile is qualitatively consistent with experimental results from micropipette measurements. Therefore, our computational studies provide new, to our knowledge, insights into the molecular mechanism of cadherin-based cell adhesion.
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