Metazoan development relies on the formation and remodeling of cell-cell contacts. The binding of adhesion receptors and remodeling of the actomyosin cell cortex at cell-cell interaction sites have been implicated in cell-cell contact formation. Yet, how these two processes functionally interact to drive cell-cell contact expansion and strengthening remains unclear. Here, we study how primary germ layer progenitor cells from zebrafish bind to supported lipid bilayers (SLB) functionalized with E-cadherin ectodomains as an assay system for monitoring cell-cell contact formation at high spatiotemporal resolution. We show that cell-cell contact formation represents a two-tiered process: E-cadherinmediated downregulation of the small GTPase RhoA at the forming contact leads to both depletion of Myosin-2 and decrease of F-actin. This is followed by centrifugal actin network flows at the contact triggered by a sharp gradient of Myosin-2 at the rim of the contact zone, with Myosin-2 displaying higher cortical localization outside than inside of the contact. These centrifugal cortical actin flows, in turn, not only further dilute the actin network at the contact disc, but also lead to an accumulation of both F-actin and Ecadherin at the contact rim. Eventually, this combination of actomyosin downregulation and flows at the contact contribute to the characteristic molecular organization implicated in contact formation and maintenance: depletion of cortical actomyosin at the contact disc, driving contact expansion by lowering interfacial tension at the contact, and accumulation of both E-cadherin and F-actin at the contact rim, mechanically linking the contractile cortices of the adhering cells. Thus, using a biomimetic assay, we exemplify how adhesion signaling and cell mechanics function together to modulate the spatial organization of cell-cell contacts.
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