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The Dual Roles of E-Cad and its Implications: Adhesion Protein and Agent of Cell Migration

E-cadherin (E-cad) has long been thought of as a cell adhesion protein whose function was to keep cells together, rendering them immobile. However, recent research published in Nature Communications suggests that E-cad actually facilitates and coordinates cell migration. Dr. Jordi Casanova and his team of scientists at the Barcelona Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) studied fruit flies and found that E-cad first helped move heterogeneous groups of cells and then held them together but still allowed movement. This observation contradicts E-cad’s previously known role as “glue” that held cells together and prevented movement.

The results of this team also indicate how E-cad plays a role in cell migration of non-epithelial cells, whereas E-cad was previously only associated with epithelial cells and interference with mesenchymal cell migration. More and more evidence is emerging that cancer metastases are the result of groups of heterogeneous cells, as opposed to individual cells. As it is much more difficult to get rid of groups of cells with different functions than a lone-migrating cell, these observations could have major implications in the treatment of cancer and subsequent metastases.

What does the newly discovered role of E-cad mean in terms of cancer metastasis? Wound healing? Inflammation? How can E-cad’s functions be used therapeutically?

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