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Cadherins are transmembrane receptors that function through calcium-dependent homophilic and heterophilic interactions that provide cell-cell contact and communication in many different organ systems. In the mammary gland only a few of the cadherins that make up this large superfamily of proteins have been characterized. Frequently in metastatic breast cancer, the genes for cadherins are epigenetically silenced, mutated, or regulated differently. During epithelial-mesenchymal transition, cadherins that are expressed normally in the epithelial cells are down-regulated, while cadherins expressed in the mesenchyme are up-regulated. This process is known as cadherin switching, and its regulation can sometimes facilitate the increased motility, invasiveness and proliferation that occurs in metastatic cancer cells. Depending on the context, however, cell motility, invasiveness, proliferation and expression of mesenchymal markers can be independently modulated from cadherin expression, leading to partial epithelial-mesenchymal transitions and even mesenchymal-epithelial transitions (METs). This review will summarize the current understanding of cadherins found in the mammary gland and what is known about their mechanism of regulation in the mammary gland during normal physiological conditions and in breast cancer.


Jennifer L Andrews, Alvin C Kim, Julie R Hens. The role and function of cadherins in the mammary gland. Breast cancer research : BCR. 2012;14(1):203

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PMID: 22315958

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