Adhesion systems in embryonic epithelial-to-mesenchyme transformations and in cancer invasion and metastasis

  • Ana M. Vallés
  • Brigitte Boyer
  • Jean Paul Thiery
Part of the Experientia Supplementum book series (EXS, volume 59)


During development, the embryo takes shape as its cells associate into specific multicellular aggregates that are the primordia for the tissues and organs of the adult body. During this period, cells continually change their relative positions as a result of modifications in their adhesive interactions. For instance, adhesion between cells maintains the integrity of epithelial layers, and conversely, reduced adhesion allows cells to dissociate from an epithelium and form mesenchyme. Mesenchymal cells may then eventually migrate from their site of origin to a distant location where they reassociate to once again form a cohesive unit. This transient conversion, termed epithelial-to-mesenchyme transition (EMT), is one of the most commonly found processes in the establishment of the embryonic pattern in multicellular organisms (Hay, 1981; Edelman, 1988). It is present during various morphogenetic events including gastrulation, neural crest migration, somitogenesis, the formation of kidney tubules, cardiac valves and the secondary palate (Thiery et al., 1985; Kolega, 1986; Duband et al., 1987). In the adult organism, epithelial cells are also capable of migrating in response to wounds in epithelial sheets or for regenerative purposes. The changes in adhesive properties necessary to correctly perform these tasks must be coordinated with external cues and with growth stages. Similar alterations might also occur during tumor cell dissemination, which is an integral component of the metastatic process. In this respect, cancer metastasis or developmental abnormalities may result from breakdown in these control mechanisms.


Neural Crest Neural Crest Cell Neural Crest Cell Migration Cranial Neural Crest Cell Autocrine Motility Factor 
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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag Basel/Switzerland 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ana M. Vallés
    • 1
  • Brigitte Boyer
    • 1
  • Jean Paul Thiery
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire de Physiopathologie du DéveloppementCNRS URA 1337 and Ecole Normale SupérieureParis Cedex 05France

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