Cell adhesion in tumor invasion and metastasis: Loss of the glue is not enough

Ugo Cavallaro, Gerhard Christofori

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tumor cells often show a decrease in cell-cell and/or cell-matrix adhesion. An increasing body of evidence indicates that this reduction in cell adhesion correlates with tumor invasion and metastasis. Two main groups of adhesion molecules, cadherins and CAMs, have been implicated in tumor malignancy. However, the specific role that these proteins play in the context of tumor progression remains to be elucidated. In this review, we discuss recent data pointing to a causal relationship between the loss of cell adhesion molecules and tumor progression. In addition, the direct involvement of these molecules in specific signal transduction pathways will be considered, with particular emphasis on the alterations of such pathways in transformed cells. Finally, we review recent observations on the molecular mechanisms underlying metastatic dissemination. In many cases, spreading of tumor cells from the primary site to distant organs has been characterized as an active process involving the loss of cell-cell adhesion and gain of invasive properties. On the other hand, various examples of metastases exhibiting a relatively benign (i.e. not invasive) phenotype have been reported. Together with our recent results on a mouse tumor model, these findings indicate that 'passive' metastatic dissemination can occur, in particular as a consequence of impaired cell-matrix adhesion and of tumor tissue disaggregation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-45
Number of pages7
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Reviews on Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Nov 30 2001


  • Cadherin
  • Cell adhesion
  • NCAM
  • Signaling
  • Tumorigenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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