Myofibroblast development is characterized by specific cell-cell adherens junctions
Myofibroblasts of wound granulation tissue, in contrast to dermal fibroblasts, join stress fibers at sites of cadherin-type intercellular adherens junctions (AJs). However, the function of myofibroblast AJs, their molecular composition, and the mechanisms of their formation are largely unknown. We demonstrate that fibroblasts change cadherin expression from N-cadherin in early wounds to OB-cadherin in contractile wounds, populated with alpha-smooth muscle actin (alpha-SMA)-positive myofibroblasts. A similar shift occurs during myofibroblast differentiation in culture and seems to be responsible for the homotypic segregation of alpha-SMA-positive and -negative fibroblasts in suspension. AJs of plated myofibroblasts are reinforced by alpha-SMA-mediated contractile activity, resulting in high mechanical resistance as demonstrated by subjecting cell pairs to hydrodynamic forces in a flow chamber. A peptide that inhibits alpha-SMA-mediated contractile force causes the reorganization of large stripe-like AJs to belt-like contacts as shown for enhanced green fluorescent protein-alpha-catenin-transfected cells and is associated with a reduced mechanical resistance. Anti-OB-cadherin but not anti-N-cadherin peptides reduce the contraction of myofibroblast-populated collagen gels, suggesting that AJs are instrumental for myofibroblast contractile activity.