Plakoglobin is a major component of the submembranal plaque of adherens junctions and desmosomes in mammalian cells. It is closely related to the Drosophila segment polarity gene armadillo which has a role in the transduction of transmembrane signals that regulate cell fate. Like its close homologue beta-catenin, plakoglobin can associate with the product of the tumor suppressor gene APC that is linked to human colon cancer. We have studied the effect of plakoglobin overexpression, and the cooperation between plakoglobin and N-cadherin, on the morphology and tumorigenic ability of cells either lacking, or expressing cadherin and alpha- and beta-catenin. Overexpression of plakoglobin in SV40-transformed 3T3 (SVT2) cells suppressed the tumorigenicity of the cells in syngeneic mice. Transfection with N-cadherin conferred an epithelial phenotype on the cell culture, but had no significant effect on the tumorigenicity of the cells. Cotransfection of plakoglobin and N-cadherin into SVT2 cells, however, was considerably more effective in tumor suppression than plakoglobin overexpression alone. Finally, transfection of plakoglobin into a human renal carcinoma cell line that expresses neither cadherins nor plakoglobin, or alpha-and beta-catenin, resulted in a dose-dependent suppression of tumor formation by these cells in nude mice. Plakoglobin, in these cells, did not exhibit junctional localization and was diffusely distributed in the cytoplasm, with a significant amount of the protein also localized in the nucleus. The results suggest that plakoglobin can efficiently suppress the tumorigenicity of cells in the presence of, or independently of the cadherin-catenin complex.