Cadherin Knockout Reveals Molecule's Role In Growth And Differentiation

December 09, 1997

Cadherins are a well-studied family of cellular-membrane molecules that help cells stick to each other to form different types of tissues. Some types of cadherins have been implicated in human cancers, including breast cancer. To investigate the function of P-cadherin in mice, which is only expressed in specialized myoepithelial cells of the mammary gland, researchers created P-cadherin-deficient mice.

"In the P-cadherin knockouts, we found that breast tissue of virgins resembled that of pregnant animals, and as these animals aged, we also saw a hyperproliferation of breast tissue," explains Glenn L. Radice, PhD, assistant professor in the Center for Research on Reproduction and Women's Health. "This tells us that somehow P-cadherin is involved in controlling the growth of mammary tissue. When it's present, the gland is quiescent, maintaining its undifferentiated state; but when it's not, mammary cells have the potential to differentiate."

Although this work is still in its early stages, Radice notes that the P-cadherin knockout mouse--the first example of cellular cross-talk between myoepithelial and epithelial cells in the breast--has opened the door to a little-studied area of breast cancer. "This gives us a glimpse into better understanding the role of cell adhesion molecules like cadherins as a check on cellular growth and differentiation," says Radice.

This work appeared in the November 17 issue of the Journal of Cell Biology.

The University of Pennsylvania Medical Center's sponsored research ranks fifth in the United States, based on grant support from the National Institutes of Health, the primary funder of biomedical research in the nation. In federal fiscal year 1996, the medical center received $149 million. In addition, for the second consecutive year, the institution posted the highest growth rate in research activity -- 9.1 percent -- of the top-ten U.S. academic medical centers during the same period. News releases from the medical center are available to reporters by direct E-mail, fax, or U.S. mail, upon request. They are also posted to the center's webpage (http://www.med.upenn.edu) and EurekAlert! (http://www.eurekalert.org), a resource sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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