International Journal of Molecular Sciences (Oct 2021)

Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition: A Challenging Playground for Translational Research. Current Models and Focus on <i>TWIST1</i> Relevance and Gastrointestinal Cancers

  • Luana Greco,
  • Federica Rubbino,
  • Alessandra Morelli,
  • Federica Gaiani,
  • Fabio Grizzi,
  • Gian Luigi de’Angelis,
  • Alberto Malesci,
  • Luigi Laghi

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 22, no. 21
p. 11469


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Resembling the development of cancer by multistep carcinogenesis, the evolution towards metastasis involves several passages, from local invasion and intravasation, encompassing surviving anoikis into the circulation, landing at distant sites and therein establishing colonization, possibly followed by the outgrowth of macroscopic lesions. Within this cascade, epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) works as a pleiotropic program enabling cancer cells to overcome local, systemic, and distant barriers against diffusion by replacing traits and functions of the epithelial signature with mesenchymal-like ones. Along the transition, a full-blown mesenchymal phenotype may not be accomplished. Rather, the plasticity of the program and its dependency on heterotopic signals implies a pendulum with oscillations towards its reversal, that is mesenchymal to epithelial transition. Cells in intermixed E⇔M states can also display stemness, enabling their replication together with the epithelial reversion next to successful distant colonization. If we aim to include the EMT among the hallmarks of cancer that could modify clinical practice, the gap between the results pursued in basic research by animal models and those achieved in translational research by surrogate biomarkers needs to be filled. We review the knowledge on EMT, derived from models and mechanistic studies as well as from translational studies, with an emphasis on gastrointestinal cancers (GI).