Background: Despite the well-documented association between loss of E-cadherin and carcinogenesis, as well as the link between restoration of its expression and suppression of proliferation in carcinoma cells, the ability of E-cadherin to modulate growth-promoting cell signalling in normal epithelial cells is less well understood and frequently contradictory. The potential for E-cadherin to co-ordinate different proliferation-associated signalling pathways has yet to be fully explored.
Methodology/Principal Findings: Using a normal human urothelial (NHU) cell culture system and following a calcium-switch approach, we demonstrate that the stability of NHU cell-cell contacts differentially regulates the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR)/Extracellular Signal-Regulated Kinase (ERK) and Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase (PI3-K)/AKT pathways. We show that stable cell contacts down-modulate the EGFR/ERK pathway, whilst inducing PI3-K/AKT activity, which transiently enhances cell growth at low density. Functional inactivation of E-cadherin interferes with the capacity of NHU cells to form stable calcium-mediated contacts, attenuates E-cadherin-mediated PI3-K/AKT induction and enhances NHU cell proliferation by allowing de-repression of the EGFR/ERK pathway and constitutive activation of β-catenin-TCF signalling.
Conclusions/Significance: Our findings provide evidence that E-cadherin can differentially and concurrently regulate specific growth-related signalling pathways in a context-specific fashion, with direct, functional consequences for cell proliferation and population growth. Our observations not only reveal a novel, complex role for E-cadherin in normal epithelial cell homeostasis and tissue regeneration, but also provide the basis for a more complete understanding of the consequences of E-cadherin loss on malignant transformation.