Rho GTPases and actomyosin: Partners in regulating epithelial cell-cell junction structure and function

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Epithelial tissues are defined by polarized epithelial cells that are integrated into tissues and exhibit barrier function in order to regulate what is allowed to pass between cells. Cell-cell junctions must be stable enough to promote barrier function and tissue integrity, yet plastic enough to remodel when necessary. This remarkable ability to dynamically sense and respond to changes in cell shape and tissue tension allows cell-cell junctions to remain functional during events that disrupt epithelial homeostasis including morphogenesis, wound healing, and cell division. In order to achieve this plasticity, both tight junctions and adherens junctions are coupled to the underlying actomyosin cytoskeleton. Here, we discuss the importance of the junctional linkage to actomyosin and how a localized zone of active RhoA along with other Rho GTPases work together to orchestrate junctional actomyosin dynamics. We focus on how scaffold proteins help coordinate Rho GTPases, their upstream regulators, and their downstream effectors for efficient, localized Rho GTPase signaling output. Additionally, we highlight important roles junctional actin-binding proteins play in addition to their traditional roles in organizing actin. Together, Rho GTPases, their regulators, and effectors form compartmentalized signaling modules that regulate actomyosin structure and contractility to achieve proper cell-cell adhesion and tissue barriers.

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