Cellular plasticity is fundamental to embryonic development. The importance of cellular transitions in development is first apparent during gastrulation when the process of epithelial to mesenchymal transition transforms polarized epithelial cells into migratory mesenchymal cells that constitute the embryonic and extraembryonic mesoderm. It is now widely accepted that this developmental pathway is exploited in various disease states, including cancer progression. The loss of epithelial characteristics and the acquisition of a mesenchymal-like migratory phenotype are crucial to the development of invasive carcinoma and metastasis. However, given the morphological similarities between primary tumour and metastatic lesions, it is likely that tumour cells re-activate certain epithelial properties through a mesenchymal to epithelial transition (MET) at the secondary site, although this is yet to be proven. MET is also an essential developmental process and has been extensively studied in kidney organogenesis and somitogenesis. In this review we describe the process of MET, highlight important mediators, and discuss their implication in the context of cancer progression.
2007 S. Karger AG, Basel