Breast cancer is a highly prevalent disease among women worldwide. While the expression of certain proteins within these tumours is used for prognosis and selection of therapies, there is a continuing need for additional markers to be identified. A considerable amount of current literature, based predominantly on cell culture systems, suggests that a major mechanism responsible for the progression of breast cancer is due to tumour cells losing their epithelial features and gaining mesenchymal properties. These events are proposed to be very similar to the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) process that has been well characterised in embryonic development. For the developmental and putative cancer EMT, the cell intermediate filament status changes from a keratin-rich network which connects to adherens junctions and hemidesmosomes, to a vimentin-rich network connecting to focal adhesions. This review summarises observations of vimentin expression in breast cancer model systems, and discusses the potential role of EMT in human breast cancer progression, and the prognostic usefulness of vimentin expression.
2007 S. Karger AG, Basel