The significant parallels between cell plasticity during embryonic development and carcinoma progression have helped us understand the importance of the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in human disease. Our expanding knowledge of EMT has led to a clarification of the EMT program as a set of multiple and dynamic transitional states between the epithelial and mesenchymal phenotypes, as opposed to a process involving a single binary decision. EMT and its intermediate states have recently been identified as crucial drivers of organ fibrosis and tumor progression, although there is some need for caution when interpreting its contribution to metastatic colonization. Here, we discuss the current state-of-the-art and latest findings regarding the concept of cellular plasticity and heterogeneity in EMT. We raise some of the questions pending and identify the challenges faced in this fast-moving field.
Keywords: cancer; development; epigenetics; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; fibrosis; metastasis; stemness; therapeutics; transcriptional control.
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