Two members of the cadherin family of intercellular adhesion molecules are found in normal breast tissue: E- (epithelial) cadherin is present in both luminal and myoepithelial cells, whereas P- (placental) cadherin is confined to myoepithelium. There is experimental evidence that loss of E-cadherin is associated with increased invasiveness of malignant cells in vitro, which stimulated us to examine the presence and distribution of E- and P-cadherin in breast carcinomas by means of immunohistochemical staining.
E-Cadherin was present in all in situ and invasive ductal carcinomas examined, although it had a patchy distribution and the staining was of variable intensity. However, in 83 per cent of invasive lobular carcinomas and all lobular carcinomas in situ there was complete loss of E-cauherin expression. In the remaining 17 per cent of invasive lobular tumours, E-cadherin appeared to have an abnormal distribution within the cytoplasm with variable expression on the cell membrane. P-Cadherin, by contrast, was absent from all benign breast luminal epithelium and 25 carcinomas of ductal and lobular type. It was found in only one carcinoma of lobular type. We suggest that loss of cell-cell adhesion mediated by E-cadherin plays a part in the characteristic morphology of lobular carcinomas.