BACKGROUND: A complex of three cell adhesion molecules (CAMs) Neurexin IV(Nrx IV), Contactin (Cont) and Neuroglian (Nrg) is implicated in the formation of septate junctions between epithelial cells in Drosophila. These CAMs are interdependent for their localization at septate junctions and e.g. null mutation of nrx IV or cont induces the mislocalization of Nrg to the baso-lateral membrane. These mutations also result in ultrastructural alteration of the strands of septate junctions and breakdown of the paracellular barrier. Varicose (Vari) and Coracle (Cora), that both interact with the cytoplasmic tail of Nrx IV, are scaffolding molecules required for the formation of septate junctions. RESULTS: We conducted photobleaching experiments on whole living Drosophila embryos to analyze the membrane mobility of CAMs at septate junctions between epithelial cells. We show that GFP-tagged Nrg and Nrx IV molecules exhibit very stable association with septate junctions in wild-type embryos. Nrg-GFP is mislocalized to the baso-lateral membrane in nrx IV or cont null mutant embryos, and displays increased mobile fraction. Similarly, Nrx IV-GFP becomes distributed to the baso-lateral membrane in null mutants of vari and cora, and its mobile fraction is strongly increased. The loss of Vari, a MAGUK protein that interacts with the cytoplasmic tail of Nrx IV, has a stronger effect than the null mutation of nrx IV on the lateral mobility of Nrg-GFP. CONCLUSION: The strands of septate junctions display a stable behavior in vivo that may be correlated with their role of paracellular barrier. The membrane mobility of CAMs is strongly limited when they take part to the multimolecular complex forming septate junctions. This restricted lateral diffusion of CAMs depends on both adhesive interactions and clustering by scaffolding molecules. The lateral mobility of CAMs is strongly increased in embryos presenting alteration of septate junctions. The stronger effect of vari by comparison with nrx IV null mutation supports the hypothesis that this scaffolding molecule may cross-link different types of CAMs and play a crucial role in stabilizing the strands of septate junctions.