Cadherins and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition

Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci. 2013;116:317-36. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-394311-8.00014-5.


Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a process whereby epithelial cells are transcriptionally reprogrammed, resulting in decreased adhesion and enhanced migration or invasion. EMT occurs during different stages of embryonic development, including gastrulation and neural crest cell delamination, and is induced by a panel of specific transcription factors. These factors comprise, among others, members of the Snail, ZEB, and Twist families, and are all known to modulate cadherin expression and, in particular, E-cadherin. By regulating expression of the cadherin family of proteins, EMT-inducing transcription factors dynamically modulate cell adhesion, allowing many developmental processes to take place. However, during cancer progression EMT can be utilized by cancer cells to contribute to malignancy. This is also reflected at the level of the cadherins, where the cadherin switch between E- and N-cadherins is a classical example seen in cancer-related EMT. In this chapter, we give a detailed overview of the entanglement between EMT-inducing transcription factors and cadherin modulation during embryonic development and cancer progression. We describe how classical cadherins such as E- and N-cadherins are regulated during EMT, as well as cadherin 7, -6B, and -11.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cadherins / metabolism*
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology*
  • Embryonic Development
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Cadherins