Malignant transformation of melanocytes frequently coincides with an alteration in the expression of cell-cell adhesion molecules (cadherins) and cell-extracellular matrix proteins (integrins). How these two adhesion systems interplay to impact on cell invasion remains to be described in melanoma. Cell adhesion networks were localised by immunofluorescence in human primary cutaneous melanoma, metastatic melanoma in the lymph nodes, and melanoma cell lines. The role of these cell adhesion networks was assessed both in vivo, by analysing their impact on tumour growth in mice, and in vitro, with the use of functional tests including cell aggregation and cell migration. We found that α2β1 integrin associates with both E-cadherin and N-cadherin to form two adhesive networks, distinguishable by the interaction-or not-of α2β1 integrin with type I collagen. N-cadherin/α2β1 integrin and E-cadherin/α2β1 integrin networks differently participated towards tumour growth in mice. The N-cadherin/α2β1 integrin network showed specific involvement in melanoma cell invasion and migration towards type I collagen. On the other hand, the E-cadherin/α2β1 network regulated cell-cell adhesion. This suggests that different signalling environments can be generated, depending on the type and/or local concentration of cadherin present in the adhesion complex, which potentially leads to differential cell responses. Further clarification of how these adhesive networks are regulated is fundamental to understanding important physiological and pathological processes such as morphogenesis, wound healing, tumour invasion and metastasis.
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