Metastasis can involve repeated cycles of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and its reverse mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition. Cells can also undergo partial transitions to attain a hybrid epithelial/mesenchymal (E/M) phenotype that allows the migration of adhering cells to form a cluster of circulating tumour cells. These clusters can be apoptosis-resistant and possess an increased metastatic propensity as compared to the cells that undergo a complete EMT (mesenchymal cells). Hence, identifying the key players that can regulate the formation and maintenance of such clusters may inform anti-metastasis strategies. Here, we devise a mechanism-based theoretical model that links cell-cell communication via Notch-Delta-Jagged signalling with the regulation of EMT. We demonstrate that while both Notch-Delta and Notch-Jagged signalling can induce EMT in a population of cells, only Jagged-dominated Notch signalling, but not Delta-dominated signalling, can lead to the formation of clusters containing hybrid E/M cells. Our results offer possible mechanistic insights into the role of Jagged in tumour progression, and offer a framework to investigate the effects of other microenvironmental signals during metastasis.
Keywords: Notch signalling; cell–cell communication; circulating tumour cells; epithelial–mesenchymal transition; hybrid epithelial/mesenchymal phenotype; multistability.
© 2016 The Authors.