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Eur J Cell Biol. 1997 Dec;74(4):342-9.

Functional downregulation of the E-cadherin/catenin complex leads to loss of contact inhibition of motility and of mitochondrial activity, but not of growth in confluent epithelial cell cultures.

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Department of Radiotherapy, Nuclear Medicine and Experimental Cancerology, University of Gent, Belgium.


When epithelial cells reach confluency in vitro, a number of energy-requiring activities such as growth and motility are contact-inhibited. We investigated the possible role of the E-cadherin/catenin complex, which acts as an invasion suppressor, in contact inhibition. Three strategies for modulation of the complex were used. Firstly, the cell-cell adhesion and signal transduction functions of E-cadherin were neutralized immunologically in human MCF-7/6 mammary carcinoma cells possessing a complete complex. Secondly, the effect of E-cadherin transfection in E-cadherin negative cell lines was investigated. Thirdly, alpha-catenin deficient variants of the human HCT-8/S11 colon carcinoma cell line were compared with their parent cells. In confluent cultures functional downregulation of the E-cadherin/catenin complex did not alter cell growth nor saturation density. This was shown by cell number counts, protein staining assays, cell cycle analysis, proliferation markers (Ki67 and Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen) and apoptosis assays. However, confluent cells with a functionally deficient complex showed positional instability and enhanced succinate dehydrogenase-mediated mitochondrial 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl-2,5-diphenyl) tetrazolium bromide (MTT) conversion, as compared to cells with an active complex. Our data indicate that contact inhibition of motility and of mitochondrial enzyme activity, but not of growth is regulated by the E-cadherin/catenin complex in epithelial cells.

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