The ability of tumours to metastasis is regarded as one of the hallmarks of malignancy. The process through which tumours evolve to achieve this has been termed the metastatic cascade. This cascade has been the subject of much investigation over many years. One of the vital events identified by these investigations is the reduction of adhesion between tumour cells facilitating invasion of the surrounding tissues and vascular channels, ultimately leading to the development of a distant metastasis. E-cadherin and its associated catenin complex have been identified as key molecules in cell adhesion. This review looks at the structure and interaction of the E-cadherin-catenin complex and the factors that appear to regulate E-cadherin expression and thus cell adhesion. From the data gathered, it has become possible to propose the hypothesis that the development of tumour hypoxia is the initiating factor that sets the tumour on the road to metastasis.
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