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Summary

Reduced gap junction activity has long been implicated in tumorigenesis. To elucidate the potential role of intercellular communication in melanoma development, we examined gap junctional capability of melanocytic cells from various stages of tumor progression in coculture models using dye transfer assays. Normal melanocytes coupled with keratinocytes by gap junctional formation, whereas melanoma cells did not. Instead, melanoma cells communicated among themselves and with fibroblasts. This switch in communication partners coincided with a shift from E-cadherin to N-cadherin expression during melanoma development. Forced expression of E-cadherin by adenoviral gene transfer in N-cadherin-expressing melanoma cells restored gap junctional compatibility with keratinocytes. Our data suggest that (1) melanocyte transformation is associated with loss of the pre-existing gap junctional activity with keratinocytes but a concomitant gain of communication with a newly juxtaposed cell type, the fibroblasts, (2) the specificity of gap junctional formation during melanoma development is determined by the cadherin profile on the melanocytic cells and (3) the overall gap junctional activity of melanocytic cells is not reduced with transformation.