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. 2017 Dec;232(12):3261-3272.
doi: 10.1002/jcp.25797. Epub 2017 Apr 10.

Epithelial-mesenchymal Transition (EMT): A Biological Process in the Development, Stem Cell Differentiation, and Tumorigenesis

Free PMC article

Epithelial-mesenchymal Transition (EMT): A Biological Process in the Development, Stem Cell Differentiation, and Tumorigenesis

Tong Chen et al. J Cell Physiol. .
Free PMC article


The lineage transition between epithelium and mesenchyme is a process known as epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), by which polarized epithelial cells lose their adhesion property and obtain mesenchymal cell phenotypes. EMT is a biological process that is often involved in embryogenesis and diseases, such as cancer invasion and metastasis. The EMT and the reverse process, mesenchymal-epithelial transition (MET), also play important roles in stem cell differentiation and de-differentiation (or reprogramming). In this review, we will discuss current research progress of EMT in embryonic development, cellular differentiation and reprogramming, and cancer progression, all of which are representative models for researches of stem cell biology in normal and in diseases. Understanding of EMT and MET may help to identify specific markers to distinguish normal stem cells from cancer stem cells in future.

Keywords: EMT; MET; cancer stem cells; reprogramming; stem cells.

Conflict of interest statement


The authors indicate no potential conflict of interest.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Schematic relationship between embryonic differentiation and E-M transition
Embryonic differentiation is triggered after the oocyte is fertilized. Primary epithelial (blue)-mesenchymal (red) transition takes place in the cells that never undergo the cellular aspect changes, which is confined in the early embryo developmental segments, including embryo implantation and early gastrulation. During gastrulation, the cells undergoing EMT contribute to ingressive mesoderm formation. Differentiation of ESC/iPSCs, an ex vivo embryonic cellular model, generates mesodermal characterized cells inside of embryonic body (EBs), whereas reprogramming of fibroblast to iPSCs undergoes the counterpart of EMT, the MET. The pluripotency and cellular epithelial/mesenchymal characterization is showed along with in vivo and ex vivo embryonic differentiation flow.

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