Adhesion molecules in tumor metastasis

Semin Cancer Biol. 1993 Aug;4(4):219-29.


It is now clear that adhesive interactions play a critical role in the process of metastatic tumor dissemination. Adhesion molecules act as both positive and negative modulators of the metastatic process. Molecules such as E-cadherin that promote homotypic tumor cell adhesion function to maintain intercellular contacts that confine cells to the primary tumor site and are negatively correlated with metastatic potential. Because tumor cells are rapidly eliminated from the circulation, those cells that can quickly arrest in the vasculature at a secondary site and pass through the vessel wall into the surrounding tissue will have a selective advantage toward establishing new metastatic colonies. The first step in this process is specific adhesion to venular endothelial cells in selected organs, a process mediated by tumor cell surface molecules such as Sialyl LewisX or the VLA-4 (alpha 4 beta 1) integrin that mediate binding to endothelial adhesion molecules such as the E-selectin or the vascular cell adhesion molecule, VCAM-1. Site-specific endothelial determinants such as the lung endothelial cell adhesion molecule, LuECAM, may additionally specify particular sites for preferential adhesion and subsequent site-specific metastasis of particular tumor types. After adherence to endothelial cells and subsequent endothelial retraction, metastatic tumor cells must adhere to elements of the subendothelial basement membrane such as laminin and types IV and V collagen, interactions frequently mediated by members of the beta 1 and beta 4 integrin families. Finally, metastatic tumor cell adhesion to connective tissue elements such as fibronectin, type I collagen and hyaluronan, mediated by molecules such as the beta 1 integrins and by the CD44 cell surface adhesion molecule, are required for movement of tumor cells into the subendothelial stroma and subsequent growth at these new sites. Thus, metastatic potential can be influenced both positively and negatively by a variety of cell surface adhesive molecules that act both independently and in concert to direct tumor cells to particular tissues, allowing them to arrest in those tissues, migrate across the vessel wall and grow at the secondary site. In the current review, I discuss the nature of the adhesion molecules that have been implicated in the metastatic process, emphasizing those molecules that have been shown to correlate with metastasis in clinical human tumors or that have been shown to influence metastatic potential in in vivo experimental assays.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / physiology*
  • Extracellular Matrix / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology*
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Immunologic


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Receptors, Immunologic