EMT: Mechanisms and therapeutic implications
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Metastasis, the dissemination of cancer cells from primary tumors, represents a major hurdle in the treatment of cancer. The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) has been studied in normal mammalian development for decades, and it has been proposed as a critical mechanism during cancer progression and metastasis. EMT is tightly regulated by several internal and external cues that orchestrate the shifting from an epithelial-like phenotype into a mesenchymal phenotype, relying on a delicate balance between these two stages to promote metastatic development. EMT is thought to be induced in a subset of metastatic cancer stem cells (MCSCs), bestowing this population with the ability to spread throughout the body and contributing to therapy resistance. The EMT pathway is of increasing interest as a novel therapeutic avenue in the treatment of cancer, and could be targeted to prevent tumor cell dissemination in early stage patients or to eradicate existing metastatic cells in advanced stages. In this review, we describe the sequence of events and defining mechanisms that take place during EMT, and how these interactions drive cancer cell progression into metastasis. We summarize clinical interventions focused on targeting various aspects of EMT and their contribution to preventing cancer dissemination.
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