E-cadherins are surface adhesion molecules localized at the level of adherens junctions, which play a major role in cell adhesiveness by mediating calcium-dependent homophylic interactions at sites of cell-cell contacts. Recently, E-cadherins have been also implicated in a number of biological processes, including cell growth and differentiation, cell recognition, and sorting during developmental morphogenesis, as well as in aggregation- dependent cell survival. As phosphatidylinositol (PI) 3-kinase and Akt play a critical role in survival pathways in response to both growth factors and extracellular stimuli, these observations prompted us to explore whether E- cadherins could affect intracellular molecules regulating the activity of the PI 3-kinase/Akt signaling cascade. Using Madin-Darby canine kidney cells as a model system, we show here that engagement of E-cadherins in homophylic calcium-dependent cell-cell interactions results in a rapid PI 3-kinase- dependent activation of Akt and the subsequent translocation of Akt to the nucleus. Moreover, we demonstrate that the activation of PI 3-kinase in response to cell-cell contact formation involves the phosphorylation of PI 3- kinase in tyrosine residues, and the concomitant recruitment of PI 3-kinase to E-cadherin-containing protein complexes. These findings indicate that E- cadherins can initiate outside-in signal transducing pathways that regulate the activity of PI 3-kinase and Akt, thus providing a novel molecular mechanism whereby the interaction among neighboring cells and their adhesion status may ultimately control the fate of epithelial cells.
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