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Rat 3Y1 cells acquire metastatic potential when transformed with v-src, and this potential is enhanced by double transformation with v-src and v-fos (Taniguchi, S., T. Kawano, T. Mitsudomi, G. Kimura, and T. Baba. 1986. Jpn. J. Cancer Res. 77:1193-1197). We compared the activity of cadherin cell adhesion molecules of normal 3Y1 cells with that of v-src transformed (SR3Y1) and v-src and v-fos double transformed (fosSR3Y1) 3Y1 cells. These cells expressed similar amounts of P-cadherin, and showed similar rates of cadherin-mediated aggregation under suspended conditions. However, the aggregates or colonies of these cells were morphologically distinct. Normal 3Y1 cells formed compacted aggregates in which cells are firmly connected with each other, whereas the transformed cells were more loosely associated, and could freely migrate out of the colonies. Overexpression of exogenous E-cadherin in these transformed cells had no significant effect on their adhesive properties. We then found that herbimycin A, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, induced tighter cell-cell associations in the aggregates of the transformed cells. In contrast, vanadate, a tyrosine phosphatase inhibitor, inhibited the cadherin-mediated aggregation of SR3Y1 and fosSR3Y1 cells but had little effect on that of normal 3Y1 cells. These results suggest that v-src-mediated tyrosine phosphorylation perturbs cadherin function directly or indirectly, and the inhibition of tyrosine phosphorylation restores cadherin action to the normal state. We next studied tyrosine phosphorylation on cadherins and the cadherin- associated proteins, catenins. While similar amounts of catenins were expressed in all of these cells, the 98-kD catenin was strongly tyrosine phosphorylated only in SR3Y1 and fosSR3Y1 cells. Cadherins were also weakly tyrosine phosphorylated only in the transformed cells. The tyrosine phosphorylation of these proteins was enhanced by vanadate, and inhibited by herbimycin A. Thus, the tyrosine phosphorylation of the cadherin-catenin system itself might affect its function, causing instable cell-cell adhesion.