Epithelial cell polarity: a major gatekeeper against cancer?

Cell Death Differ. 2011 Sep;18(9):1470-7. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2011.60. Epub 2011 May 27.


The correct establishment and maintenance of cell polarity are crucial for normal cell physiology and tissue homeostasis. Conversely, loss of cell polarity, tissue disorganisation and excessive cell growth are hallmarks of cancer. In this review, we focus on identifying the stages of tumoural development that are affected by the loss or deregulation of epithelial cell polarity. Asymmetric division has recently emerged as a major regulatory mechanism that controls stem cell numbers and differentiation. Links between cell polarity and asymmetric cell division in the context of cancer will be examined. Apical-basal polarity and cell-cell adhesion are tightly interconnected. Hence, how loss of cell polarity in epithelial cells may promote epithelial mesenchymal transition and metastasis will also be discussed. Altogether, we present the argument that loss of epithelial cell polarity may have an important role in both the initiation of tumourigenesis and in later stages of tumour development, favouring the progression of tumours from benign to malignancy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Dedifferentiation
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Polarity* / physiology
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology*
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism


  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases