It has been realized for some time that the loss of epithelial differentiation in carcinomas, which is accompanied by higher mobility and invasiveness of the tumor cells, is a consequence of reduced intercellular adhesion. A variety of recent reports have indicated that the primary cause for the ‘scattering’ of the cells in invasive carcinomas is a loss of the integrity of intercellular junctions. Thus, defects in expression or structure of several components of the epithelial adherens junctions (e.g. E-cadherin, α-catenin) can occur, and our increased knowledge about the molecules of the junctions allows an explanation of these defects in molecular terms in some of the cases. Furthermore, tyrosine phosphorylation of junctional components (e.g. β-catenin) appears to play a role in the assembly and disassembly of cell-cell contacts. Some of the effectors of epithelial junction formation are tyrosine protein kinases, e.g. the scatter factor/hepatocyte growth factor receptor c-Met, the FGF receptors and the pp60src kinase. The importance of tyrosine phosphorylation in junctions during tumor development is becoming increasingly evident.

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