The calcium-dependent homophilic cell adhesion molecule and candidate suppressor gene, E (epithelial)-cadherin, plays a major role in the organization and integrity of most epithelial tissues. Diffusely growing gastric carcinomas show markedly reduced homophilic cell-to-cell interactions. We speculated that mutations in the E-cadherin gene may be responsible for the scattered phenotype of this type of carcinoma. For that reason we have examined E-cadherin in 26 diffuse type, 20 intestinal type and 7 mixed gastric carcinomas (Laurén's classification) at the DNA, RNA, and protein levels.
Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction and direct sequencing of amplified E-cadherin complementary DNA fragments revealed inframe skipping of either exon 8 or exon 9 in 10 patients with diffuse tumors and an exon 9 deletion in one patient with a mixed carcinoma; both exons encode putative calcium binding domains. These alterations were not seen in nontumorous gastric tissues. Splice site mutations responsible for the exon deletions were identified in six of these patients, eliminating the possibility of alternative splicing mechanisms. Five of these splice site alterations were confirmed as somatic mutations. Non-splice site mutations were observed in three diffuse type tumors, namely a 69-base pair deletion of exon 10 and two point mutations, one of which destroys a putative calcium binding region. Immunohistochemical evaluation showed E-cadherin immunoreactivity in tumors and lymph node metastases of patients expressing abnormal mRNA. The allelic status of the E-cadherin gene was analyzed in one patient, revealing loss of heterozygosity with retention of a mutated E-cadherin allele. Overall, E-cadherin mutations were identified in 50% (13 of 26) of the diffuse type and in 14% (1 of 7) of the mixed carcinomas. In contrast, two silent E-cadherin mutations (not changing the amino acid sequence) were detected in two tumors of the intestinal type.
Our study provides strong in vivo evidence that E-cadherin gene mutations may contribute to the development of diffusely growing gastric carcinomas and support a tumor/metastasis suppressor gene hypothesis.