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      Cancer stem cells, a fuzzy evolving concept : A cell population or a cell property?

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          The cancer stem cells (CSC) hypothesis represents a pathological extrapolation of the physiological concept of embryonic and somatic stem cells. In its initial definition, it encompassed the hypothesis of a qualitatively distinct population of immortal cancer cells originating from somatic stem cells, which generate in xenotransplants by a deterministic irreversible process, the hierarchy of more differentiated finite lifespan derived cells, which constitute, themselves, the bulk of the cancer. These CSC would express specific biomarkers and gene expressions related to chemo- and radioresistance, stemness, epithelial–mesenchymal transition, etc.

          No convincing congruence of several of these properties in one cell population has been demonstrated. The concept has greatly evolved with time and with different authors (“the plasticity of cancer stem cells”), leading to a minimal definition of cells generating a hierarchy of derived cells. In this article these concepts are analyzed. It is proposed that stemness is a property, more or less reversible, a hallmark of some cells at some time in a cancer cell population, as immortality, dormancy, chemo- or radioresistance, epithelial–mesenchymal transition etc. These phenotypic properties represent the result of independent, linked, or more or less congruent, genetic, epigenetic, or signaling programs.

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          Most cited references 68

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          Hallmarks of Cancer: The Next Generation

          The hallmarks of cancer comprise six biological capabilities acquired during the multistep development of human tumors. The hallmarks constitute an organizing principle for rationalizing the complexities of neoplastic disease. They include sustaining proliferative signaling, evading growth suppressors, resisting cell death, enabling replicative immortality, inducing angiogenesis, and activating invasion and metastasis. Underlying these hallmarks are genome instability, which generates the genetic diversity that expedites their acquisition, and inflammation, which fosters multiple hallmark functions. Conceptual progress in the last decade has added two emerging hallmarks of potential generality to this list-reprogramming of energy metabolism and evading immune destruction. In addition to cancer cells, tumors exhibit another dimension of complexity: they contain a repertoire of recruited, ostensibly normal cells that contribute to the acquisition of hallmark traits by creating the "tumor microenvironment." Recognition of the widespread applicability of these concepts will increasingly affect the development of new means to treat human cancer. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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            The epithelial-mesenchymal transition generates cells with properties of stem cells.

            The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a key developmental program that is often activated during cancer invasion and metastasis. We here report that the induction of an EMT in immortalized human mammary epithelial cells (HMLEs) results in the acquisition of mesenchymal traits and in the expression of stem-cell markers. Furthermore, we show that those cells have an increased ability to form mammospheres, a property associated with mammary epithelial stem cells. Independent of this, stem cell-like cells isolated from HMLE cultures form mammospheres and express markers similar to those of HMLEs that have undergone an EMT. Moreover, stem-like cells isolated either from mouse or human mammary glands or mammary carcinomas express EMT markers. Finally, transformed human mammary epithelial cells that have undergone an EMT form mammospheres, soft agar colonies, and tumors more efficiently. These findings illustrate a direct link between the EMT and the gain of epithelial stem cell properties.
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              Epithelial-mesenchymal transition: at the crossroads of development and tumor metastasis.

              The epithelial-mesenchymal transition is a highly conserved cellular program that allows polarized, immotile epithelial cells to convert to motile mesenchymal cells. This important process was initially recognized during several critical stages of embryonic development and has more recently been implicated in promoting carcinoma invasion and metastasis. In this review, we summarize and compare major signaling pathways that regulate the epithelial-mesenchymal transitions during both development and tumor metastasis. Studies in both fields are critical for our molecular understanding of cell migration and morphogenesis.

                Author and article information

                [1 ]Institute of Interdisciplinary Research (IRIBHM); University of Brussels; Brussels, Belgium
                [2 ]Wellbio; School of Medicine; University of Brussels; Brussels, Belgium
                Author notes

                These authors contributed equally to this work.

                [* ]Correspondence to: Jacques E Dumont, Email: jedumont@
                Cell Cycle
                Cell Cycle
                Cell Cycle
                Landes Bioscience
                15 December 2013
                22 November 2013
                22 November 2013
                : 12
                : 24
                : 3743-3748
                Copyright © 2013 Landes Bioscience

                This is an open-access article licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. The article may be redistributed, reproduced, and reused for non-commercial purposes, provided the original source is properly cited.


                Cell biology

                cancer, cancer hallmarks, tumor, stemness, stem cell


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