Collective cell migration (CCM) and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) are common to cancer and morphogenesis, and are often considered to be mutually exclusive in spite of the fact that many cancer and embryonic cells that have gone through EMT still cooperate to migrate collectively. Here we use neural crest (NC) cells to address the question of how cells that have down-regulated cell-cell adhesions can migrate collectively. NC cell dissociation relies on a qualitative and quantitative change of the cadherin repertoire. We found that the level of cell-cell adhesion is precisely regulated by internalization of N-cadherin downstream of lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) receptor 2. Rather than promoting the generation of single, fully mesenchymal cells, this reduction of membrane N-cadherin only triggers a partial mesenchymal phenotype. This intermediate phenotype is characterized by an increase in tissue fluidity akin to a solid-like-to-fluid-like transition. This change of plasticity allows cells to migrate under physical constraints without abolishing cell cooperation required for collectiveness.
© 2014 Kuriyama et al.