Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is an important process during development by which epithelial cells acquire mesenchymal, fibroblast-like properties and show reduced intercellular adhesion and increased motility. Accumulating evidence points to a critical role of EMT-like events during tumor progression and malignant transformation, endowing the incipient cancer cell with invasive and metastatic properties. Several oncogenic pathways (peptide growth factors, Src, Ras, Ets, integrin, Wnt/beta-catenin and Notch) induce EMT and a critical molecular event is the downregulation of the cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin. Recently, activation of the phosphatidylinositol 3' kinase (PI3K)/AKT axis is emerging as a central feature of EMT. In this review, we discuss the role of PI3K/AKT pathways in EMT during development and cancer with a focus on E-cadherin regulation. Interactions between PI3K/AKT and other EMT-inducing pathways are presented, along with a discussion of the therapeutic implications of modulating EMT in order to achieve cancer control.