We conditionally substituted E-cadherin (E-cad; cadherin 1) with N-cadherin (N-cad; cadherin 2) during intestine development by generating mice in which an Ncad cDNA was knocked into the Ecad locus. Mutant mice were born, demonstrating that N-cad can structurally replace E-cad and establish proper organ architecture. After birth, mutant mice gradually developed a mutant phenotype in both the small and large intestine and died at ~2-3 weeks of age, probably due to malnutrition during the transition to solid food. Molecular analysis revealed an extended domain of cells from the crypt into the villus region, with nuclear localization of β-catenin (β-cat; Ctnnb1) and enhanced expression of several β-cat target genes. In addition, the BMP signaling pathway was suppressed in the intestinal epithelium of the villi, suggesting that N-cad might interfere with BMP signaling in the intestinal epithelial cell layer. Interestingly, mutant mice developed severe dysplasia and clusters of cells with neoplastic features scattered along the crypt-villus axis in the small and large intestine. Our experimental model indicates that, in the absence of E-cad, the sole expression of N-cad in an epithelial environment is sufficient to induce neoplastic transformations
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