July 5, 2023

What is e-cadherin?

E-cadherin, also known as epithelial cadherin or CDH1, is a transmembrane protein that helps epithelial cells stick together in a process called cell adhesion.

E-cadherin. This picture shows the normal expression of e-cadherin expression (brown cells) in the breast.

What types of cells normally make e-cadherin?

E-cadherin is primarily found in tissues made up of epithelial cells, which cover the outside and inside surfaces of organs throughout the body. E-cadherin is a transmembrane protein which means it is located within the membrane that surrounds the outside of the cell.

What does e-cadherin do?

The function of e-cadherin is to help maintain the integrity and structure of epithelial tissues such as those in the skin, breast, digestive tract, respiratory tract, genitourinary tract, and female reproductive tract. It is particularly abundant in areas called cell junctions that provide mechanical strength and facilitate communication between neighboring epithelial cells.

E-cadherin’s role in cell adhesion is vital for various biological processes, including embryonic development, tissue morphogenesis, and wound healing. It helps to establish and maintain the polarity and organization of epithelial cells, ensuring proper tissue architecture. E-cadherin also participates in signal transduction pathways, influencing cell proliferation, differentiation, and cell survival.

What types of tumours show abnormal expression of e-cadherin?

Some types of malignant (cancerous) tumours show a loss of normal e-cadherin expression. These types of tumours are often made up of large round cells that do not stick together like normal epithelial cells. These cells are often described as being discohesive or having a signet-ring morphology. Examples of tumours that show a loss of e-cadherin expression are invasive lobular carcinoma of the breast and diffuse-type adenocarcinoma of the stomach.

How do pathologists test for e-cadherin expression?

Pathologists perform a test called immunohistochemistry to look for e-cadherin expression in a tissue sample. Normal epithelial cells show strong membranous expression. Abnormal epithelial cells, such as those in invasive lobular carcinoma of the breast, will show a partial or complete loss of membranous expression.

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