Epithelia migrate as physically coherent populations of cells. Previous studies have revealed that mechanical stress accumulates in these cellular layers as they move. These stresses are characteristically tensile in nature and have often been inferred to arise when moving cells pull upon the cell–cell adhesions that hold them together. We now report that epithelial tension at adherens junctions between migrating cells also increases due to an increase in RhoA-mediated junctional contractility. We found that active RhoA levels were stimulated by p114 RhoGEF (also known as ARHGEF18) at the junctions between migrating MCF-7 monolayers, and this was accompanied by increased levels of actomyosin and mechanical tension. Applying a strategy to restore active RhoA specifically at adherens junctions by manipulating its scaffold, anillin, we found that this junctional RhoA signal was necessary to stabilize junctional E-cadherin (CDH1) during epithelial migration and promoted orderly collective movement. We suggest that stabilization of E-cadherin by RhoA serves to increase cell–cell adhesion to protect against the mechanical stresses of migration.

This article has an associated First Person interview with the first author of the paper.

You do not currently have access to this content.