While many adhesion receptors are known to influence tumor progression, the mechanisms by which they dynamically regulate cell-cell adhesion remain elusive. We previously identified Activated Leukocyte Cell Adhesion Molecule (ALCAM) as a clinically relevant driver of metastasis and hypothesized that a tunable mechanism of ectodomain shedding regulates its contribution to dissemination. To test this hypothesis, we examined an under-explored ALCAM splice variant (ALCAM-Iso2) and demonstrated that loss of the membrane-proximal region of ALCAM (exon 13) increased metastasis four-fold. Mechanistic studies identified a novel MMP14-dependent membrane distal cleavage site in ALCAM-Iso2, which mediated a ten-fold increase in shedding, thereby decreasing cellular cohesion. Importantly, the loss of cohesion is not limited to the cell capable of shedding because the released extracellular domain diminished cohesion of non-shedding cells through disruption of ALCAM-ALCAM interactions. ALCAM-Iso2-dominated expression in bladder cancer tissue, compared to normal bladder, further emphasizes that ALCAM alternative splicing may contribute to clinical disease progression. The requirement for both the loss of exon 13 and the gain of metalloprotease activity suggests that ALCAM shedding and concomitant regulation of tumor cell adhesion is a locally tunable process.
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