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Abstract

Tumor progression involves the transition from normal to malignant cells, through a series of cumulative alterations. During this process, invasive and migratory properties are acquired, enabling cells to metastasize (reach and grow in tissues far from their origin). Numerous cellular changes take place during epithelial malignancy, and disruption of E-cadherin based cell-cell adhesion is a major event. The small Rho GTPases (Rho, Rac and Cdc42) have been implicated in multiple steps during cellular transformation, including alterations on the adhesion status of the tumor cells. This review focuses on recent in vivo evidence that implicates RhoGTPases in epithelial tumor progression. In addition, we discuss different hypotheses to explain disruption of cadherin-mediated cell–cell adhesion, directly or indirectly, through activation of Rho GTPases. Understanding the molecular mechanism of how cadherin adhesion and RhoGTPases interplay in normal cells and how this balance is altered during cellular transformation will provide clues as to how to interfere with tumor progression. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. BioEssays 25:452–463, 2003. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.