Cell junctions are sites of intercellular adhesion that maintain the integrity of epithelial tissue and regulate signalling between cells. These adhesive junctions are comprised of protein complexes that serve to establish an intercellular cytoskeletal network for anchoring cells, in addition to regulating cell polarity, molecular transport and communication. The expression of cell adhesion molecules is tightly controlled and their downregulation is essential for epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process that facilitates the generation of morphologically and functionally diverse cell types during embryogenesis. The characteristics of EMT are a loss of cell adhesion and increased cellular mobility. Hence, in addition to its normal role in development, dysregulated EMT has been linked to cancer progression and metastasis, the process whereby primary tumors migrate to invasive secondary sites in the body. This paper will review the current understanding of cell junctions and their role in cancer, with reference to the abnormal regulation of junction protein genes. The potential use of cell junction molecules as diagnostic and prognostic markers will also be discussed, as well as possible therapies for adhesive dysregulation.
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