Expression of the epithelial cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin in primary and metastatic gastric carcinoma was examined using immunohistochemical analyses. Compared to normal mucosa, 92% of the primary tumors (n = 60) showed reduced E-cadherin expression, suggesting that down-regulation of this cell adhesion molecule is a common early event in gastric tumorigenesis. No significant correlation was found between E-cadherin expression and tumor diameter, lymphatic vessel invasion, Borrmann classification, lymph node status, or manifest metastases. Although advanced tumors (tumor stage 3/4) showed a loss of E-cadherinpositive cells (≤50% cells/lesion, P = 0.0168), the most significant correlation was observed between low E-cadherin expression and cellular dedifferentiation (grading 3/4, P = 0.0001) and disintegration of tissue architecture (Lauren and WHO classifications, P = 0.0001). Low E-cadherin expression (≤50% cells/lesion) was associated with tumor recurrence (P = 0.0013) and mortality (P = 0.0246). E-cadherin expression in metastatic lesions (n = 58) also correlated with the degree of glandular differentiation (P = 0.0001). Significant correlation (rs = 0.686) was observed between E-cadherin expression in primary and metastatic lesions from individual patients (n = 39). However, while metastases derived from E-cadherin-negative tumors remained negative, those originating from E-cadherin-positive tumors frequently demonstrated increased levels of expression. Evaluation of multiple metastases in 11 patients revealed uniformly strong E-cadherin expression in liver metastases, suggesting a possible regulatory role of the microenvironment.

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This work was supported by the Deutsche Krebshilfe.

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