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LSSS 2018-2019


Life Sciences Seminar Series


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Carien Niessen

Department of Dermatology and CECAD, University of Cologne, Germany

Cell adhesion and polarity signaling in making, maintaining and breaking epithelial barriers

Selected Publications

Cell adhesion and mechanics as drivers of tissue organization and differentiation: local cues for large scale organization.Wickström SA, Niessen CM
Curr Opin Cell Biol 2018 Oct; 54:89-97


Biological patterns emerge through specialization of genetically identical cells to take up distinct fates according to their position within the organism. How initial symmetry is broken to give rise to these patterns remains an intriguing open question. Several theories of patterning have been proposed, most prominently Turing's reaction-diffusion model of a slowly diffusing activator and a fast diffusing inhibitor generating periodic patterns. Although these reaction-diffusion systems can generate diverse patterns, it is becoming increasingly evident that cell shape and tension anisotropies, mediated via cell-cell and/or cell-matrix contacts, also facilitate symmetry breaking and subsequent self-organized tissue patterning. This review will highlight recent studies that implicate local changes in adhesion and/or tension as key drivers of cell rearrangements. We will also discuss recent studies on the role of cadherin and integrin adhesive receptors in mediating and responding to local tissue tension asymmetries to coordinate cell fate, position and behavior essential for tissue self-organization and maintenance.

Shared and independent functions of aPKCλ and Par3 in skin tumorigenesis.Vorhagen S, Kleefisch D, Persa OD, Graband A, Schwickert A, Saynisch M, Leitges M, Niessen CM, Iden S
Oncogene 2018 Sep; 37(37):5136-5146


The polarity proteins Par3 and aPKC are key regulators of processes altered in cancer. Par3/aPKC are thought to dynamically interact with Par6 but increasing evidence suggests that aPKC and Par3 also exert complex-independent functions. Whereas aPKCλ serves as tumor promotor, Par3 can either promote or suppress tumorigenesis. Here we asked whether and how Par3 and aPKCλ genetically interact to control two-stage skin carcinogenesis. Epidermal loss of Par3, aPKCλ, or both, strongly reduced tumor multiplicity and increased latency but inhibited invasion to similar extents, indicating that Par3 and aPKCλ function as a complex to promote tumorigenesis. Molecularly, Par3/aPKCλ cooperate to promote Akt, ERK and NF-κB signaling during tumor initiation to sustain growth, whereas aPKCλ dominates in promoting survival. In the inflammatory tumorigenesis phase Par3/aPKCλ cooperate to drive Stat3 activation and hyperproliferation. Unexpectedly, the reduced inflammatory signaling did not alter carcinogen-induced immune cell numbers but reduced IL-4 Receptor-positive stromal macrophage numbers in all mutant mice, suggesting that epidermal aPKCλ and Par3 promote a tumor-permissive environment. Importantly, aPKCλ also serves a distinct, carcinogen-independent role in controlling skin immune cell homeostasis. Collectively, our data demonstrates that Par3 and aPKCλ cooperate to promote skin tumor initiation and progression, likely through sustaining growth, survival, and inflammatory signaling.

E-cadherin integrates mechanotransduction and EGFR signaling to control junctional tissue polarization and tight junction positioning.Rübsam M, Mertz AF, Kubo A, Marg S, Jüngst C, Goranci-Buzhala G, Schauss AC, Horsley V, Dufresne ER, Moser M, Ziegler W, Amagai M, Wickström SA, Niessen CM
Nat Commun 2017 Nov 1; 8(1):1250


Generation of a barrier in multi-layered epithelia like the epidermis requires restricted positioning of functional tight junctions (TJ) to the most suprabasal viable layer. This positioning necessitates tissue-level polarization of junctions and the cytoskeleton through unknown mechanisms. Using quantitative whole-mount imaging, genetic ablation, and traction force microscopy and atomic force microscopy, we find that ubiquitously localized E-cadherin coordinates tissue polarization of tension-bearing adherens junction (AJ) and F-actin organization to allow formation of an apical TJ network only in the uppermost viable layer. Molecularly, E-cadherin localizes and tunes EGFR activity and junctional tension to inhibit premature TJ complex formation in lower layers while promoting increased tension and TJ stability in the granular layer 2. In conclusion, our data identify an E-cadherin-dependent mechanical circuit that integrates adhesion, contractile forces and biochemical signaling to drive the polarized organization of junctional tension necessary to build an in vivo epithelial barrier.

Adherens Junctions and Desmosomes Coordinate Mechanics and Signaling to Orchestrate Tissue Morphogenesis and Function: An Evolutionary Perspective.Rübsam M, Broussard JA, Wickström SA, Nekrasova O, Green KJ, Niessen CM
Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol 2018 Nov 1; 10(11)


Cadherin-based adherens junctions (AJs) and desmosomes are crucial to couple intercellular adhesion to the actin or intermediate filament cytoskeletons, respectively. As such, these intercellular junctions are essential to provide not only integrity to epithelia and other tissues but also the mechanical machinery necessary to execute complex morphogenetic and homeostatic intercellular rearrangements. Moreover, these spatially defined junctions serve as signaling hubs that integrate mechanical and chemical pathways to coordinate tissue architecture with behavior. This review takes an evolutionary perspective on how the emergence of these two essential intercellular junctions at key points during the evolution of multicellular animals afforded metazoans with new opportunities to integrate adhesion, cytoskeletal dynamics, and signaling. We discuss known literature on cross-talk between the two junctions and, using the skin epidermis as an example, provide a model for how these two junctions function in concert to orchestrate tissue organization and function.

Epidermal polarity genes in health and disease.Tellkamp F, Vorhagen S, Niessen CM
Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med 2014 Dec 1; 4(12):a015255


The epidermis of the skin is a highly polarized, metabolic tissue with important innate immune functions. The polarity of the epidermis is, for example, reflected in controlled changes in cell shape that accompany differentiation, oriented cell division, and the planar orientation of hair follicles and cilia. The establishment and maintenance of polarity is organized by a diverse set of polarity proteins that include transmembrane adhesion proteins, cytoskeletal scaffold proteins, and kinases. Although polarity proteins have been extensively studied in cell culture and in vivo in simple epithelia of lower organisms, their role in mammalian tissue biology is only slowly evolving. This article will address the importance of polarizing processes and their molecular regulators in epidermal morphogenesis and homeostasis and discuss how alterations in polarity may contribute to skin disease.