The cadherin gene family encodes calcium-dependent adhesion molecules that promote homophilic interactions among cells. During embryogenesis, differential expression of cadherins can drive morphogenesis by stimulating cell aggregation, defining boundaries between groups of cells and promoting cell migration. In this report, the expression patterns of cadherins were examined by immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization in the embryonic kidney, during the time when mesenchymal cells are phenotypically converted to epithelium and the pattern of the developing nephrons is established. At the time of mesenchymal induction, cadherin-11 is expressed in the mesenchyme but not in the ureteric bud epithelium, which expresses E-cadherin. The newly formed epithelium of the renal vesicle expresses E-cadherin near the ureteric bud tips and cadherin-6 more distally, suggesting that this primitive epithelium is already patterned with respect to progenitor cell types. In the s-shaped body, the cadherin expression patterns reflect the developmental fate of each region. The proximal tubule progenitors express cadherin-6, the distal tubule cells express E-cadherin, whereas the glomeruli express P-cadherin. Ultimately, cadherin-6 is down-regulated whereas E-cadherin expression remains in most, if not all, of the tubular epithelium. Antibodies generated against the extracellular domain of cadherin-6 inhibit aggregation of induced mesenchyme and the formation of mesenchyme-derived epithelium but do not disrupt ureteric bud branching in vitro. These data suggest that cadherin-6 function is required for the early aggregation of induced mesenchymal cells and their subsequent conversion to epithelium.

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