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J Biol Chem. 2001 Feb 16;276(7):4972-80. Epub 2000 Nov 13.

Cleavage and shedding of E-cadherin after induction of apoptosis.

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Departments of Medical Oncology and Tumorimmunology, Max Delbrück Center of Molecular Medicine, Robert-Rössle-Strasse 10, D-13092 Berlin, Germany.


Apoptotic cell death induces dramatic molecular changes in cells, becoming apparent on the structural level as membrane blebbing, condensation of the cytoplasm and nucleus, and loss of cell-cell contacts. The activation of caspases is one of the fundamental steps during programmed cell death. Here we report a detailed analysis of the fate of the Ca(2+)-dependent cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin in apoptotic epithelial cells and show that during apoptosis fragments of E-cadherin with apparent molecular masses of 24, 29, and 84 kDa are generated by two distinct proteolytic activities. In addition to a caspase-3-mediated cleavage releasing the cytoplasmic domain of E-cadherin, a metalloproteinase sheds the extracellular domain from the cell surface during apoptosis. Immunofluorescence analysis confirmed that concomitant with the disappearance of E-cadherin staining at the cell surface, the E-cadherin cytoplasmic domain accumulates in the cytosol. In the presence of inhibitors of caspase-3 and/or metalloproteinases, cleavage of E-cadherin was almost completely blocked. The simultaneous cleavage of the intracellular and extracellular domains of E-cadherin may provide a highly efficient mechanism to disrupt cadherin-mediated cell-cell contacts in apoptotic cells, a prerequisite for cell rounding and exit from the epithelium.

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