Epithelial to mesenchymal transition as a biomarker in renal fibrosis: are we ready for the bedside?

Fibrogenesis Tissue Repair. 2011 Apr 6;4:11. doi: 10.1186/1755-1536-4-11.


Over the past two decades, the concept of the epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) has been imported from embryology and oncology to fibrosis, particularly in the kidney. This interest in EMT in the context of renal fibrosis stems from observations of epithelial cells undergoing phenotypic changes reminiscent of fibroblasts. Whether EMT is actually a source of interstitial fibroblasts has been the subject of heated debate, and this controversy has caused physicians to neglect the value of EMT as a biomarker in renal fibrosis. In this review, we describe the evolution of the techniques used to detect EMT during fibrosing renal diseases, and what information they provide in the diagnosis of various renal diseases. Highlighting the great heterogeneity of these techniques and the need to standardize them, we warn against some misleading uses of EMT markers. We suggest using the association of vimentin and β-catenin for the diagnosis of EMT in renal pathology because it is both sensitive and prognostic, thus satisfying the properties required for a screening test. Finally, we discuss the potential interests to diagnose EMT for the comprehension of renal fibrosis and for clinical practice.