The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 55: 811 - 822 (2011)

Vol 55, Issue 7-8-9

Special Issue: Mammary Gland in Development & Cancer

P-cadherin role in normal breast development and cancer

Published: 29 November 2011

André Albergaria1, Ana-Sofia Ribeiro1, André-Filipe Vieira1, Bárbara Sousa1, Ana-Rita Nobre1, Raquel Seruca1,2, Fernando Schmitt1,2 and Joana Paredes*,1,2

1IPATIMUP - Institute of Molecular Pathology and Immunology of the University of Porto and 2Medical Faculty of Porto University, Porto, Portugal.


P-cadherin is a cell-cell adhesion molecule, whose expression is highly associated with undifferentiated cells in normal adult epithelial tissues, as well as with poorly differentiated carcinomas. Its expression has been already reported in human embryonic stem cells and it is presumed to be a marker of stem or progenitor cells of some epithelial tissues. In normal breast, P-cadherin has an essential role during ductal mammary branching, being expressed by the monolayer of epithelial cap cells at the end buds. In mature mammary tissue, its expression is restricted to the myoepithelium; it has been postulated that it may also be present in early luminal progenitor cells. In breast cancer, P-cadherin is frequently overexpressed in high-grade tumours, being a well-established indicator of poor patient prognosis. It has been reported as an important inducer of cancer cell migration and invasion, with underlying molecular mechanisms involving the signalling mediated by its juxtamembrane domain, the secretion of matrix metalloproteases to the extracellular media, and the cleavage of a P-cadherin soluble form with pro-invasive activity. Intracellularly, this protein interferes with the endogenous cadherin/catenin complex, inducing p120-catenin delocalization to the cytoplasm, and the consequent activation of Rac1/Cdc42 and associated alterations in the actin cytoskeleton. Considering P-cadherin's role in cancer cell invasion and metastasis formation, a humanized monoclonal antibody was recently produced to antagonize P-cadherin-associated signalling pathways, which is currently under Phase I clinical trials. In this review, the most important findings about the role of P-cadherin in normal breast development and cancer will be illustrated and discussed, with emphasis on the most recent data.


P-cadherin, CDH3 gene, mammary gland, breast cancer

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