The apical junction of epithelial cells can generate force to control cell geometry and perform contractile processes while maintaining barrier function and adhesion. Yet, the structural basis for force generation at the apical junction is not fully understood. Here, we describe two synaptopodin-dependent actomyosin structures that are spatially, temporally, and structurally distinct. The first structure is formed by the retrograde flow of synaptopodin initiated at the apical junction, creating a sarcomeric stress fiber that lies parallel to the apical junction. Contraction of the apical stress fiber is associated with either clustering of membrane components or shortening of junctional length. Upon junction maturation, apical stress fibers are disassembled. In mature epithelial monolayer, a motorized “contractomere” capable of “walking the junction” is formed at the junctional vertex. Actomyosin activities at the contractomere produce a compressive force evident by actin filament buckling and measurement with a new α-actinin-4 force sensor. The motility of contractomeres can adjust junctional length and change cell packing geometry during cell extrusion and intercellular movement. We propose a model of epithelial homeostasis that utilizes contractomere motility to support junction rearrangement while preserving the permeability barrier.

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