EpCAM as Modulator of Tissue Plasticity

Cells. 2020 Sep 19;9(9):2128. doi: 10.3390/cells9092128.


The Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule or EpCAM is a well-known marker highly expressed in carcinomas and showing a strong correlation with poor cancer prognosis. While its name relates to its proposed function as a cell adhesion molecule, EpCAM has been shown to have various signalling functions. In particular, it has been identified as an important positive regulator of cell adhesion and migration, playing an essential role in embryonic morphogenesis as well as intestinal homeostasis. This activity is not due to its putative adhesive function, but rather to its ability to repress myosin contractility by impinging on a PKC signalling cascade. This mechanism confers EpCAM the unique property of favouring tissue plasticity. I review here the currently available data, comment on possible connections with other properties of EpCAM, and discuss the potential significance in the context of cancer invasion.

Keywords: Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule; TACSD; Trop1; Trop2; actomyosin contractility; cell–cell adhesion; cell–matrix adhesion; cortical tension; intercellular migration; metastasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / metabolism
  • Carcinoma / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma / genetics*
  • Carcinoma / metabolism
  • Carcinoma / pathology
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / genetics
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule / genetics*
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Myosins / genetics
  • Myosins / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Protein Kinase C / genetics
  • Protein Kinase C / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • EPCAM protein, human
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • TACSTD2 protein, human
  • Protein Kinase C
  • Myosins