Exogenous expression of N-cadherin in breast cancer cells induces cell migration, invasion, and metastasis

Rachel B. Hazan, Greg R. Phillips, Rui Fang Qiao, Larry Norton, Stuart A. Aaronson

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788 Scopus citations


E- and N-cadherin are calcium-dependent cell adhesion molecules that mediate cell-cell adhesion and also modulate cell migration and tumor invasiveness. The loss of E-cadherin-mediated adhesion has been shown to play an important role in the transition of epithelial tumors from a benign to an invasive state. However, recent evidence indicates that another member of the cadherin family, N-cadherin, is expressed in highly invasive tumor cell lines that lacked E-cadherin expression. These findings have raised the possibility that N-cadherin contributes to the invasive phenotype. To determine whether N-cadherin promotes invasion and metastasis, we transfected a weakly metastatic and E-cadherin-expressing breast cancer cell line, MCF-7, with N-cadherin and analyzed the effects on cell migration, invasion, and metastasis. Transfected cells expressed both E- and N-cadherin and exhibited homotypic cell adhesion from both molecules. In vitro, N-cadherin-expressing cells migrated more efficiently, showed an increased invasion of Matrigel, and adhered more efficiently to monolayers of endothelial cells. All cells produced low levels of the matrix metalloproteinase MMP-9, which was dramatically upregulated by treatment with FGF-2 only in N-cadherin-expressing cells. Migration and invasion of Matrigel were also greatly enhanced by this treatment. When injected into the mammary fat pad of nude mice, N-cadherin-expressing cells, but not control MCF-7 cells, metastasized widely to the liver, pancreas, salivary gland, omentum, lung, lymph nodes, and lumbar spinal muscle. The expression of both E- and N-cadherin was maintained both in the primary tumors and metastatic lesions. These results demonstrate that N-cadherin promotes motility, invasion, and metastasis even in the presence of the normally suppressive E-cadherin. The increase in MMP-9 production by N-cadherin-expressing cells in response to a growth factor may endow them with a greater ability to penetrate matrix protein barriers, while the increase in their adherence to endothelium may improve their ability to enter and exit the vasculature, two properties that may be responsible for metastasis of N-cadherin-expressing cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779-790
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Cell Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 21 Feb 2000


  • E-cadherin
  • FGF-2
  • MMP-9
  • Motility


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