Epithelial plasticity, cancer stem cells, and the tumor-supportive stroma in bladder carcinoma

Mol Cancer Res. 2012 Aug;10(8):995-1009. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-12-0274. Epub 2012 Jun 19.


High recurrence rates and poor survival rates of metastatic bladder cancer emphasize the need for a drug that can prevent and/or treat bladder cancer progression and metastasis formation. Accumulating evidence suggests that cancer stem/progenitor cells are involved in tumor relapse and therapy resistance in urothelial carcinoma. These cells seem less affected by the antiproliferative therapies, as they are largely quiescent, have an increased DNA damage response, reside in difficult-to-reach, protective cancer stem cell niches and express ABC transporters that can efflux drugs from the cells. Recent studies have shown that epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process in which sessile, epithelial cells switch to a motile, mesenchymal phenotype may render cancer cells with cancer stem cells properties and/or stimulate the expansion of this malignant cellular subpopulation. As cancer cells undergo EMT, invasiveness, drug resistance, angiogenesis, and metastatic ability seem to increase in parallel, thus giving rise to a more aggressive tumor type. Furthermore, the tumor microenvironment (tumor-associated stromal cells, extracellular matrix) plays a key role in tumorigenesis, tumor progression, and metastasis formation. Taken together, the secret for more effective cancer therapies might lie in developing and combining therapeutic strategies that also target cancer stem/progenitor cells and create an inhospitable microenvironment for highly malignant bladder cancer cells. This review will focus on the current concepts about the role of cancer stem cells, epithelial plasticity, and the supportive stroma in bladder carcinoma. The potential implications for the development of novel bladder cancer therapy will be discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma* / pathology
  • Carcinoma* / therapy
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic*
  • DNA Damage / genetics
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / pathology
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells* / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells* / pathology
  • Tumor Microenvironment
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms* / therapy