Embryonic stem (ES) cell pluripotency and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell generation is dependent on a core transcriptional network and proper cell cell adhesion mediated by E-cadherin (E-cad). Whereas E-cad is associated with pluripotency, N-cadherin (N-cad) expression is correlated with differentiation into mesodermal and neuroectodermal lineages. We investigated whether E-cad harbors unique molecular features in establishing or maintaining pluripotency. By using a gene replacement knock-in (ki) approach to express N-cadherin (N-cad) or E-cad/N-cad chimeric cadherins under the control of the E-cad locus, we show that all E-cad-depleted ki/ki ES cells are maintained in an undifferentiated state. Surprisingly, these cells retained key features of pluripotency, such as Nanog expression and full differentiation capacity in vitro and in vivo, whereas E-cad knockout (ko) ES cells irreversibly lost most of these features. Moreover, our results indicate that E-cad mediated adhesion is essential for iPS cell generation, since E-cad depleted fibroblasts were not reprogrammed. In contrast, N-cad efficiently supports somatic reprogramming similar to E-cad, and permits initiation of the crucial initial step of mesenchymal epithelial transition. Thus, we show that cell adhesion and a robust pluripotent phenotype are ultimately connected. Since N-cad properly compensates for loss of E-cad, no specific 'cadherin code' is required. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.