It has been realized that the loss of epithelial differentiation in carcinomas, which is accompanied by higher mobility and invasiveness of the tumor cells, is often a consequence of reduced intercellular adhesion. A variety of recent reports have indicated that the primary cause for the 'scattering' of the cells in invasive carcinomas is a disturbance of the integrity of intercellular junctions, often involving loss of a functional cell-cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin. It has also been suggested that during invasion, carcinoma cells convert to a sort of mesenchymal stage, as do normal epithelial cells during development. In the present review, permanent and transient molecular mechanisms are discussed which lead to the impairment of junction integrity of the epithelial cells and thus to the progression of carcinomas towards a more metastatic state. Furthermore, the now extensive literature on the down-regulation of E-cadherin expression in human and animal carcinomas is reviewed in detail.