Riding the crest of the wave: parallels between the neural crest and cancer in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and migration

Wiley Interdiscip Rev Syst Biol Med. 2013 Jul-Aug;5(4):511-22. doi: 10.1002/wsbm.1224. Epub 2013 Apr 10.


The neural crest (NC) is first induced as an epithelial population of cells at the neural plate border requiring complex signaling between bone morphogenetic protein, Wnt, and fibroblast growth factors to differentiate the neural and NC fate from the epidermis. Remarkably, following induction, these cells undergo an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), delaminate from the neural tube, and migrate through various tissue types and microenvironments before reaching their final destination where they undergo terminal differentiation. This process is mirrored in cancer metastasis, where a primary tumor will undergo an EMT before migrating and invading other cell populations to create a secondary tumor site. In recent years, as our understanding of NC EMT and migration has deepened, important new insights into tumorigenesis and metastasis have also been achieved. These discoveries have been driven by the observation that many cancers misregulate developmental genes to reacquire proliferative and migratory states. In this review, we examine how the NC provides an excellent model for studying EMT and migration. These data are discussed from the perspective of the gene regulatory networks that control both NC and cancer cell EMT and migration. Deciphering these processes in a comparative manner will expand our knowledge of the underlying etiology and pathogenesis of cancer and promote the development of novel targeted therapeutic strategies for cancer patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Movement
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neural Crest / cytology*
  • Neural Crest / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Transcription Factors