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Protein kinase C activation disrupts epithelial apical junctions via ROCK-II dependent stimulation of actomyosin contractility

Andrei I Ivanov1*, Stanislav N Samarin2, Moshe Bachar2, Charles A Parkos2 and Asma Nusrat2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14642, USA

2 Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, 30322, USA

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BMC Cell Biology 2009, 10:36  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-10-36

Published: 7 May 2009



Disruption of epithelial cell-cell adhesions represents an early and important stage in tumor metastasis. This process can be modeled in vitro by exposing cells to chemical tumor promoters, phorbol esters and octylindolactam-V (OI-V), known to activate protein kinase C (PKC). However, molecular events mediating PKC-dependent disruption of epithelial cell-cell contact remain poorly understood. In the present study we investigate mechanisms by which PKC activation induces disassembly of tight junctions (TJs) and adherens junctions (AJs) in a model pancreatic epithelium.


Exposure of HPAF-II human pancreatic adenocarcinoma cell monolayers to either OI-V or 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate caused rapid disruption and internalization of AJs and TJs. Activity of classical PKC isoenzymes was responsible for the loss of cell-cell contacts which was accompanied by cell rounding, phosphorylation and relocalization of the F-actin motor nonmuscle myosin (NM) II. The OI-V-induced disruption of AJs and TJs was prevented by either pharmacological inhibition of NM II with blebbistatin or by siRNA-mediated downregulation of NM IIA. Furthermore, AJ/TJ disassembly was attenuated by inhibition of Rho-associated kinase (ROCK) II, but was insensitive to blockage of MLCK, calmodulin, ERK1/2, caspases and RhoA GTPase.


Our data suggest that stimulation of PKC disrupts epithelial apical junctions via ROCK-II dependent activation of NM II, which increases contractility of perijunctional actin filaments. This mechanism is likely to be important for cancer cell dissociation and tumor metastasis.