Adherens Junctions and Pathogen Entry

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Abstract

Epithelia are highly organised structures protecting underlying tissues against microbial pathogens. Epithelial morphogenesis and maintenance is mediated by cell-cell adhesion molecules organised in junctional complexes, such as the adherens junctions. The tight organisation of these complexes and their interactions with cellular factors render the epithelia impermeable to potential invaders. Nevertheless, pathogens have developed strategies to target, interact and manipulate junctional complexes, in order to disrupt or cross the epithelial barriers and cause infection. Bacteria, viruses and parasites access the junctional molecular components either directly, often taking advantage of physiological alterations in epithelial polarity, or indirectly, by delivering into cells molecular factors that destabilise junctional integrity. Importantly, microbial interactions with junctional components are instrumental not only to elucidate mechanisms of invasion, but also to unravel fundamental physiological properties of the epithelial barriers, at the cellular and tissular level.