Epithelial, mesenchymal and hybrid epithelial/mesenchymal phenotypes and their clinical relevance in cancer metastasis.

Research paper by Minal M Garg

Indexed on: 23 Mar '17Published on: 23 Mar '17Published in: Expert reviews in molecular medicine


Cancer metastasis occurs through local invasion of circulating tumour cells (CTCs), intravasation, transportation to distant sites, and their extravasation followed by colonisation at secondary sites. Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a normal developmental phenomenon, but its aberrant activation confers tumour cells with enhanced cell motility, metastatic properties, resistant to therapies and cancer stem cell (CSC) phenotype in epithelium-derived carcinoma. Experimental studies from various research papers have been reviewed to determine the factors, which interlink cancer stemness and cellular plasticity with EMT. Although existence of CSCs has been linked with EMT, nevertheless, there are controversies with the involvement of type of tumour cells, including cells with E (epithelial) and M (mesenchymal) phenotype alone or hybrid E/M phenotype in different types of cancers. Studies on CTCs with hybrid E/M phenotypes during different stages of cancer metastasis reveal strong association with tumour -initiation potential, cellular plasticity and types of cancer cells. Cells with the hybrid E/M state are strictly controlled by phenotypic stability factors coupled to core EMT decision-making circuits, miR200/ZEB and miR-34/Snail. Understanding the regulatory functions of EMT program in cancer metastasis can help us to characterise the biomarkers of prognostic and therapeutic potential. These biomarkers when targeted may act as metastatic suppressors, inhibit cellular plasticity and stemness ability of tumour cells and can block metastatic growth.