Cadherin cell adhesion molecules play an essential role in creating tight intercellular association and are considered to work as an invasion suppressor system of cancer cells. They form a molecular complex with catenins, a group of cytoplasmic proteins including alpha- and beta-catenins. While alpha-catenin has been demonstrated to be crucial for cadherin function, the role of beta-catenin is not yet fully understood. In this study, we analyzed the cadherin-catenin system in two human cell lines, HSC-39 and its putative subline HSC-40A, derived from a signet ring cell carcinoma of stomach. These cells grow as loose aggregates or single cells, suggesting that their cadherin system is not functional. In these cell lines, an identical 321-base pair in-frame mRNA deletion of beta-catenin was identified; this led to a 107-amino-acid deletion in the NH2-terminal region of the protein. Southern blot analysis disclosed a homozygous deletion in part of the beta-catenin gene. On the other hand, these cells expressed E-cadherin, alpha-catenin, and plakoglobin of normal size. Immunoprecipitation analyses showed that E-cadherin was coprecipitated with the mutated beta-catenin but not with alpha-catenin, and antibodies against beta-catenin did not copurify alpha-catenin. However, the recombinant fusion protein containing wild-type beta-catenin precipitated alpha-catenin from these cells. These results suggest that the dysfunction of E-cadherin in these cell lines is due primarily to its failure to interact with alpha-catenin, and that this defect results from the mutation in beta-catenin. Thus, it is most likely that the association between E-cadherin and alpha-catenin is mediated by beta-catenin, and that this process is blocked by NH2-terminal deletion in beta-catenin. These findings indicate that genetic abnormality of beta-catenin is one of the mechanisms responsible for loosening of cell-cell contact, and may be involved in enhancement of tumor invasion in human cancers.
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