Cell-cell interfaces are found throughout multicellular organisms, from transient interactions between motile immune cells to long-lived cell-cell contacts in epithelia. Studies of immune cell interactions, epithelial cell barriers, neuronal contacts and sites of cell-cell fusion have identified a core set of features shared by cell-cell interfaces that critically control their function. Data from diverse cell types also show that cells actively and passively regulate the localization, strength, duration and cytoskeletal coupling of receptor interactions governing cell-cell signalling and physical connections between cells, indicating that cell-cell interfaces have a unique membrane organization that emerges from local molecular and cellular mechanics. In this Review, we discuss recent findings that support the emerging view of cell-cell interfaces as specialized compartments that biophysically constrain the arrangement and activity of their protein, lipid and glycan components. We also review how these biophysical features of cell-cell interfaces allow cells to respond with high selectivity and sensitivity to multiple inputs, serving as the basis for wide-ranging cellular functions. Finally, we consider how the unique properties of cell-cell interfaces present opportunities for therapeutic intervention.
Nat rev mol cell biol