Epithelial Interactions in Cancer

Note: It is with deep sadness that we inform of the passing of Professor Raquel Seruca on May 30th, 2022. For research inquiries, please contact Joana Figueiredo ( or Sérgia Velho (



The long-term goal of the EPIC (EPithelial Interactions in Cancer) group is to uncover how epithelial cancer cells interact with each other or with other cells of the tumour microenvironment, impacting cancer cell invasion, migration, and metastasis, as well as resistance to therapy. Specifically, and based on two common epithelial-derived cancers (gastric and colorectal), the group aims to establish the contribution of adhesion molecules and oncogenic signalling to cancer development, addressing the ability of cancer cells to sense, adapt and modulate the tumour microenvironment.
EPIC researchers have expertise in adhesion and cancer-associated pathways involving host cellular and non-cellular interactions within the tumour tissue. The group encompasses skills on molecular and cell biology, pathology, and oncology. Furthermore, it has available unique biological reagents that include stable cell lines expressing wild-type and mutant forms of a major adhesion molecule (E-cadherin), series of primary tumours and several in vitro and in vivo experimental models.
The group is structured in two working teams, addressing complementary research topics. SERUCA’s team (now under Figueiredo’ supervision) aims at identifying key molecules and signalling networks mediated by E-cadherin dysfunction in cancer. VELHO´s team aims at dissecting the role of oncogenic signalling in the interaction of cancer cells with the tumour microenvironment and how it impacts cancer tissue remodelling.
The accomplishment of these research goals will contribute to the development of new tools for patient surveillance, as well as to the design and improvement of therapeutic strategies targeting cancer cell invasion and metastasis.

SERUCA’s team has been focused on the functional consequences of E-cadherin loss in epithelial architecture and consequent cell invasive behaviour. We have identified distinct trafficking-related partners and novel mechanisms that hamper E-cadherin translation, folding and deliver to the basolateral membrane, impairing cell adhesion and increasing cell invasive potential. Currently, we aim to identify critical moieties and signalling pathways that are associated with a specific mechanotransduction program involving a remodelling of cell-ECM interactions, cytoskeletal reorganization and cell reshaping. Of note, using our knowledge on cell biology of adhesion molecules, we provide services worldwide on functional assays of E-cadherin missense mutations found within the frame of International Gastric Cancer Linkage Consortium.


VELHO’s team is focused on the role of oncogenic signalling in orchestrating the crosstalk between colorectal cancer cells and the tumour microenvironment, and how it impacts tumour initiation, progression and resistance to therapy. By identifying the regulators of this crosstalk and the routes of communication, we expect to uncover novel treatment strategies targeting the interaction of cancer cells with the microenvironment. Previous work from our team supports a role for mutant KRAS in mediating cancer cell interaction with microenvironment factors, either by regulating cancer cells´ response to external factors or by promoting a pro-tumorigenic microenvironment. In particular, we have found that, by regulating clinically relevant molecules involved in the communication with the microenvironment, KRAS mutant colorectal cancer cells impact cancer cell invasion, stemness, and immune escape when challenged with microenvironmental-derived factors.
Additionally, by affecting the properties of cancer-associated fibroblasts, KRAS mutant colorectal cancer cells are likely to impact cancer tissue remodelling. Our data is also highlighting the crucial contribution of the tumour microenvironment on the regulation of tolerance and resistance to KRAS inhibition. Our team applies in vivo and in vitro studies such as genetically engineered mouse models, 2D and 3D cell culture systems, including patient- and mouse-derived organoids, to answer clinically relevant questions.


Selected Publications

  1. Figueiredo J, Söderberg O, Simões-Correia J, Grannas K, Suriano G, Seruca R. The importance of E-cadherin binding partners to evaluate the pathogenicity of E-cadherin missense mutations associated to HDGC. European Journal of Human Genetics 21:301-9, 2013.

  2. Ferreira AC, Suriano G, Mendes N, Gomes B, Wen X, Carneiro F, Seruca R, Machado JC. E-cadherin impairment increases cell survival through Notch-dependent upregulation of Bcl-2. Human Molecular Genetics 21:334-43, 2012.

  3. Caldeira J, Simões-Correia J, Paredes J, Pinto MT, Sousa S, Corso G, Marrelli D, Roviello F, Pereira PS, Weil D, Oliveira C, Casares F, Seruca R. CPEB1, a novel gene silenced in gastric cancer: a Drosophila approach. Gut 61:1115-23, 2012.

  4. Frebourg T, Oliveira C, Hochain P, Karam R, Manouvrier S, Graziadio C, Vekemans M, Hartmann A, Baert-Desurmont S, Alexandre C, Lejeune Dumoulin S, Marroni C, Martin C, Castedo S, Lovett M, Winston J, Machado JC, Attié T, Jabs EW, Cai J, Pellerin P, Triboulet JP, Scotte M, Le Pessot F, Hedouin A, Carneiro F, Blayau M, Seruca R.  Cleft lip/palate and CDH1/E-cadherin mutations in families with hereditary diffuse gastric cancer. Journal of Medical Genetics 43:138-42, 2006.

  5. Suriano G, Oliveira C, Ferreira P, Machado JC, Bordin MC, De Wever O, Bruyneel EA, Moguilevsky N, Grehan N, Porter TR, Richards FM, Hruban RH, Roviello F, Huntsman D, Mareel M, Carneiro F, Caldas C, Seruca R. Identification of CDH1 germline missense mutations associated with functional inactivation of the E-cadherin protein in young gastric cancer probands. Human Molecular Genetics 12:575-82, 2003.

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