Single-Cell Identity Generated by Combinatorial Homophilic Interactions between α, β, and γ Protocadherins
Individual mammalian neurons express distinct repertoires of protocadherin (Pcdh) -α, -β and -γ proteins that function in neural circuit assembly. Here we show that all three types of Pcdhs can engage in specific homophilic interactions, that cell surface delivery of alternate Pcdhα isoforms requires cis interactions with other Pcdh isoforms, and that the extracellular cadherin domain EC6 plays a critical role in this process. Analysis of specific combinations of up to five Pcdh isoforms showed that Pcdh homophilic recognition specificities strictly depend on the identity of all of the expressed isoforms, such that mismatched isoforms interfere with cell-cell interactions. We present a theoretical analysis showing that the assembly of Pcdh-α, −β and −γ isoforms into multimeric recognition units, and the observed tolerance for mismatched isoforms can generate the cell surface diversity necessary for single-cell identity. However, competing demands of non-self discrimination and self-recognition place limitations on the mechanisms by which recognition units can function.
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