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J Biol Chem. 2004 Aug 27;279(35):37191-200. Epub 2004 Jun 16.

Epidermal growth factor receptor inhibition promotes desmosome assembly and strengthens intercellular adhesion in squamous cell carcinoma cells.

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Departments of Pathology and Dermatology, The Robert H. Lurie Cancer Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, 303 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.


The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) has been proposed as a key modulator of cadherin-containing intercellular junctions, particularly in tumors that overexpress this tyrosine kinase. Here the EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor PKI166 and EGFR blocking antibody C225, both of which are used clinically to treat head and neck cancers, were used to determine the effects of EGFR inhibition on intercellular junction assembly and adhesion in oral squamous cell carcinoma cells. EGFR inhibition resulted in a transition from a fibroblastic morphology to a more epithelial phenotype in cells grown in low calcium; under these conditions cadherin-mediated cell-cell adhesion is normally reduced, and desmosomes are absent. The accumulated levels of desmoglein 2 (Dsg2) and desmocollin 2 increased 1.7-2.0-fold, and both desmosomal cadherin and plaque components were recruited to cell-cell borders. This redistribution was paralleled by an increase in Dsg2 and desmoplakin in the Triton-insoluble cell fraction, suggesting that EGFR blockade promotes desmosome assembly. Importantly, E-cadherin expression and solubility were unchanged. Furthermore, PKI166 blocked tyrosine phosphorylation of Dsg2 and plakoglobin following epidermal growth factor stimulation, whereas no change in phosphorylation was detected for E-cadherin and beta-catenin. The increase in Dsg2 protein was in part due to the inhibition of matrix metalloproteinase-dependent proteolysis of this desmosomal cadherin. These morphological and biochemical changes were accompanied by an increase in intercellular adhesion based on functional assays at all calcium concentrations tested. Our results suggest that EGFR inhibition promotes desmosome assembly in oral squamous cell carcinoma cells, resulting in increased cell-cell adhesion.

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