The common currency of epithelial differentiation and homeostasis is calcium, stored primarily in the endoplasmic reticulum, rationed according to need, and replenished from the extracellular milieu via store-operated calcium entry (SOCE). This currency is disbursed by the IP3 receptor in response to diverse extracellular signals. The rate of release is governed by regulators of proliferation, autophagy, survival, and programmed cell death, the strength of the signal leading to different outcomes. Intracellular calcium acts chiefly through intermediates such as calmodulin that regulates growth factor receptors such as epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), actin polymerization, and adherens junction assembly and maintenance. Here we review this machinery and its role in differentiation, then consider how cancer cells subvert it to license proliferation, resist anoikis, and enable metastasis, either by modulating the level of intracellular calcium or its downstream targets or effectors such as EGFR, E-cadherin, IQGAP1, TMEM16A, CLCA2, and TRPA1. Implications are considered for the roles of E-cadherin and growth factor receptors in circulating tumor cells and metastasis. The discovery of novel, cell type-specific modulators and effectors of calcium signaling offers new possibilities for cancer chemotherapy.
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