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      Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition in Cancer: Parallels Between Normal Development and Tumor Progression


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          From the earliest stages of embryonic development, cells of epithelial and mesenchymal origin contribute to the structure and function of developing organs. However, these phenotypes are not always permanent, and instead, under the appropriate conditions, epithelial and mesenchymal cells convert between these two phenotypes. These processes, termed Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT), or the reverse Mesenchymal-Epithelial Transition (MET), are required for complex body patterning and morphogenesis. In addition, epithelial plasticity and the acquisition of invasive properties without the full commitment to a mesenchymal phenotype are critical in development, particularly during branching morphogenesis in the mammary gland. Recent work in cancer has identified an analogous plasticity of cellular phenotypes whereby epithelial cancer cells acquire mesenchymal features that permit escape from the primary tumor. Because local invasion is thought to be a necessary first step in metastatic dissemination, EMT and epithelial plasticity are hypothesized to contribute to tumor progression. Similarities between developmental and oncogenic EMT have led to the identification of common contributing pathways, suggesting that the reactivation of developmental pathways in breast and other cancers contributes to tumor progression. For example, developmental EMT regulators including Snail/Slug, Twist, Six1, and Cripto, along with developmental signaling pathways including TGF-β and Wnt/β-catenin, are misexpressed in breast cancer and correlate with poor clinical outcomes. This review focuses on the parallels between epithelial plasticity/EMT in the mammary gland and other organs during development, and on a selection of developmental EMT regulators that are misexpressed specifically during breast cancer.

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          Identification of selective inhibitors of cancer stem cells by high-throughput screening.

          Screens for agents that specifically kill epithelial cancer stem cells (CSCs) have not been possible due to the rarity of these cells within tumor cell populations and their relative instability in culture. We describe here an approach to screening for agents with epithelial CSC-specific toxicity. We implemented this method in a chemical screen and discovered compounds showing selective toxicity for breast CSCs. One compound, salinomycin, reduces the proportion of CSCs by >100-fold relative to paclitaxel, a commonly used breast cancer chemotherapeutic drug. Treatment of mice with salinomycin inhibits mammary tumor growth in vivo and induces increased epithelial differentiation of tumor cells. In addition, global gene expression analyses show that salinomycin treatment results in the loss of expression of breast CSC genes previously identified by analyses of breast tissues isolated directly from patients. This study demonstrates the ability to identify agents with specific toxicity for epithelial CSCs.
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            Epithelial-mesenchymal transition in breast cancer relates to the basal-like phenotype.

            Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is defined by the loss of epithelial characteristics and the acquisition of a mesenchymal phenotype. In carcinoma cells, EMT can be associated with increased aggressiveness, and invasive and metastatic potential. To assess the occurrence of EMT in human breast tumors, we conducted a tissue microarray-based immunohistochemical study in 479 invasive breast carcinomas and 12 carcinosarcomas using 28 different markers. Unsupervised hierarchical clustering of the tumors and statistical analysis showed that up-regulation of EMT markers (vimentin, smooth-muscle-actin, N-cadherin, and cadherin-11) and overexpression of proteins involved in extracellular matrix remodeling and invasion (SPARC, laminin, and fascin), together with reduction of characteristic epithelial markers (E-cadherin and cytokeratins), preferentially occur in breast tumors with the "basal-like phenotype." Moreover, most breast carcinosarcomas also had a basal-like phenotype and showed expression of mesenchymal markers in their sarcomatous and epithelial components. To assess whether basal-like cells have intrinsic phenotypic plasticity for mesenchymal transition, we performed in vitro studies with the MCF10A cell line. In response to low cell density, MCF10A cells suffer spontaneous morphologic and phenotypic EMT-like changes, including cytoskeleton reorganization, vimentin and Slug up-regulation, cadherin switching, and diffuse cytosolic relocalization of the catenins. Moreover, these phenotypic changes are associated with modifications in the global genetic differentiation program characteristic of the EMT process. In summary, our data indicate that in breast tumors, EMT likely occurs within a specific genetic context, the basal phenotype, and suggests that this proclivity to mesenchymal transition may be related to the high aggressiveness and the characteristic metastatic spread of these tumors.
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              Inflammation and EMT: an alliance towards organ fibrosis and cancer progression

              Recent advances in our understanding of the molecular pathways that govern the association of inflammation with organ fibrosis and cancer point to the epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) as the common link in the progression of these devastating diseases. The EMT is a crucial process in the development of different tissues in the embryo and its reactivation in the adult may be regarded as a physiological attempt to control inflammatory responses and to ‘heal’ damaged tissue. However, in pathological contexts such as in tumours or during the development of organ fibrosis, this healing response adopts a sinister nature, steering these diseases towards metastasis and organ failure. Importantly, the chronic inflammatory microenvironment common to fibrotic and cancer cells emerges as a decisive factor in the induction of the pathological EMT.

                Author and article information

                +1-303-7243509 , +1-303-7243512 , heide.ford@ucdenver.edu
                J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia
                Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia
                Springer US (Boston )
                19 May 2010
                19 May 2010
                June 2010
                : 15
                : 2
                : 117-134
                [1 ]Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, CO 80045 USA
                [2 ]Medical Scientist Training Program, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, CO 80045 USA
                [3 ]Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, CO 80045 USA
                [4 ]Program in Molecular Biology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, CO 80045 USA
                [5 ]University of Colorado at Denver, Anschutz Medical Campus, RC1 North, Rm. 5102, Aurora, CO 80045 USA
                © The Author(s) 2010
                : 26 February 2010
                : 26 April 2010
                Custom metadata
                © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

                Oncology & Radiotherapy
                epithelial plasticity,branching morphogenesis,breast cancer metastasis,epithelial-mesenchymal transition


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