L1 cell adhesion molecule (L1-CAM) is a transmembrane cell adhesion molecule involved in cell migration and axon guidance in the developing nervous system. L1 is also overexpressed in ovarian and endometrial carcinomas and is associated with a bad prognosis. In carcinoma cell lines, L1 overexpression augments cell motility, tumor growth in mice and induces expression of Erk-dependent genes. Here, we show that a mutation in the cytoplasmic portion of L1 (T1247A, S1248A) abrogates Erk activation, blocks cell migration on extracellular matrix proteins and did not augment tumor growth in non-obese diabetic/severe combined immuno-deficient mice. In cells expressing mutant L1, the induction of Erk-dependent genes such as beta3-integrin, cathepsin-B and several transcription factors is eliminated and the invasive phenotype is abrogated. L1 antibodies showed similar effects. They prevented Erk activation and interfered with the Erk-dependent gene expression pattern. These findings provide a rationale for the mode of action of L1 antibodies and suggest that interference with L1 function could become a valuable target for therapy.