We have analysed the expression of cadherin/catenin complex molecules in PC C13 rat thyroid cells transformed in vitro with different oncogenes. No significant downregulation of either E-cadherin, alpha-, beta- and gamma-catenin was detected following the introduction of activated forms of myc, adenovirus E1A, ras, raf, myc + ras, E1A + raf. However, ras- and raf-transformed PC C13 cells showed altered adherens junctions. An altered distribution of cadherin/catenin complexes characterized by radially oriented membrane spikes perpendicular to cell edges was the most prominent feature evidenced by immunofluorescence. No beta1 integrin localization was observed in areas where this altered pattern of E-cadherin expression was detected. However, beta1 integrin subunit expression was detected at areas of cell-cell contact where E-cadherin showed a normal pattern of expression. Furthermore, ras- and raf-transformed PC C13 cells showed the ability to migrate in collagen gels, in contrast to their normal untransformed counterpart. Overexpression of beta1 integrin was found to restore normal E-cadherin localization at cell-cell contacts and to partially inhibit the ability to migrate in collagen gels. Finally, two cell lines obtained by ras transformation in vivo, and derived from a rat primary thyroid carcinoma (TK6) and its lung metastasis (MPTK6), were found to have lost gamma-catenin expression. TK6 lost also E-cadherin expression and membrane localization of alpha-catenin. These results suggest that: i) in vitro thyroid cell transformation is associated to a change in cadherin/catenin complexes distribution rather than to a decrease in expression; ii) in vivo transformation is associated to the loss of expression of some of these molecules likely due to tumor progression; iii) alterations in beta1 integrin subunit expression can result in changes in cadherin/catenin function thus implying that an integrin-cadherin synergy may exist in thyroid cells.