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van Roy Unit - Molecular Cell Biology

Research field: Cell junctional and tumor related proteins

Group leader: Prof. em. Dr. Frans van Roy


Frans Van Roy was the second director of the UGent and VIB DMBR until 2012. He retired in 2016.

Research topic

For several years this research group has been focusing on the invasion and tumor suppressor roles of the cell-cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin, and on associated and related proteins. In a majority of aggressive epithelial tumor cells, the pivotal E-cadherin gene either bears inactivating mutations or is transcriptionally silenced. A third and intriguing possibility is the dysregulation of cadherin functionality at the level of its cytoplasmic anchoring via a variety of catenins to the cytoskeleton.
Numerous new structural and regulatory proteins were recently localized in the cell adhesion junctions, often in a cell-type and tissue-specific manner. Several of these proteins can function in both specific adhesion and signaling. Notable examples are delta-protocadherins and armadillo proteins such as beta-catenin and p120ctn. We aim at a thorough understanding and meaningful interpretation of the physiological functions and mutual interactions of these proteins, under both normal and pathological conditions. Moreover, we are scrutinizing recently discovered novel genes and proteins that presumably have an oncogenic or invasion stimulatory role.

Area of expertise

  • Invasion and metastasis of tumors
  • Cell differentiation and morphogenesis
  • Structural and functional characterization of the following gene and protein families:
    • the delta-protocadherin family,
    • the armadillo family,
    • the alpha-catenin family,
    • the Nanos family.
  • Transgenic and knockout mouse models

Selected publications

  1. van Roy F. Beyond E-cadherin: roles of other cadherin superfamily members in cancer.
    Nature Reviews Cancer, 14, 121-134, 2014.
  2. van Roy F, editor. The Molecular Biology of Cadherins
    Prog. Mol. Biol. Transl. Sci, 116, 465 pages (ISBN 978-0-12-394311-8) Elsevier - Academic Press, 2013.
  3. van Hengel J et al. Mutations in the area composita protein alpha-T-catenin are associated with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy.
    European Heart Journal, 34, 201-210, 2013.
  4. Hulpiau & van Roy. New insights into the evolution of metazoan cadherins.
    Molecular Biology and Evolution 28, 647-657, 2011.
  5. van Roy F and Berx G. The cell-cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin. Cell Mol Life Sci  65, 3756-3788, 2008.
  6. Vleminckx K et al. Genetic manipulation of E-cadherin expression by epithelial tumor cells reveals an invasion suppressor role.
    Cell 66, 107-119, 1991.

The E-cadherin-catenin complex:
pivotal role in suppression
of tumor malignancy


Targeted ablation of
proteins of interest
in tissues like
the mouse intestine

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