Epithelial cell adhesion molecule: more than a carcinoma marker and adhesion molecule

Am J Pathol. 2007 Aug;171(2):386-95. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2007.070152. Epub 2007 Jun 28.


The epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM, CD326) is a glycoprotein of approximately 40 kd that was originally identified as a marker for carcinoma, attributable to its high expression on rapidly proliferating tumors of epithelial origin. Normal epithelia express EpCAM at a variable but generally lower level than carcinoma cells. In early studies, EpCAM was proposed to be a cell-cell adhesion molecule. However, recent insights revealed a more versatile role for EpCAM that is not limited only to cell adhesion but includes diverse processes such as signaling, cell migration, proliferation, and differentiation. Cell surface expression of EpCAM may actually prevent cell-cell adhesion. Here, we provide a comprehensive review of the current knowledge on EpCAM biology in relation to other cell adhesion molecules. We discuss the implications of the newly identified functions of EpCAM in view of its prognostic relevance in carcinoma, inflammatory pathophysiology, and tissue development and regeneration as well as its role in normal epithelial homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm / analysis
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / physiology*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Carcinoma / metabolism
  • Carcinoma / pathology
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / analysis
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / physiology*
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • EPCAM protein, human
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule