Identification and optimization of small molecules that restore E-cadherin expression and reduce invasion in colorectal carcinoma cells

ACS Chem Biol. 2011 May 20;6(5):452-65. doi: 10.1021/cb100305h. Epub 2011 Feb 9.


E-cadherin is a transmembrane protein that maintains intercellular contacts and cell polarity in epithelial tissue. The down-regulation of E-cadherin contributes to the induction of the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), resulting in an increased potential for cellular invasion of surrounding tissues and entry into the bloodstream. Loss of E-cadherin has been observed in a variety of human tumors as a result of somatic mutations, chromosomal deletions, silencing of the CDH1 gene promoter, and proteolytic cleavage. To date, no compounds directly targeting E-cadherin restoration have been developed. Here, we report the development and use of a novel high-throughput immunofluorescent screen to discover lead compounds that restore E-cadherin expression in the SW620 colon adenocarcinoma cell line. We confirmed restoration of E-cadherin using immunofluorescent microscopy and were able to determine the EC(50) for selected compounds using an optimized In-Cell Western assay. The profiled compounds were also shown to have a minimal effect on cell proliferation but did decrease cellular invasion. We have also conducted preliminary investigations to elucidate a discrete molecular target to account for the phenotypic behavior of these small molecules and have noted a modest increase in E-cadherin mRNA transcripts, and RNA-Seq analysis demonstrated that potent analogues elicited a 10-fold increase in CDH1 (E-cadherin) gene expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cadherins / biosynthesis*
  • Cadherins / genetics
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / prevention & control*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism


  • Cadherins
  • RNA, Messenger