Secreted molecules inducing epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in cancer development

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2018 Jun:78:62-72. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2017.06.027. Epub 2017 Jun 30.


The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a biologic process that allows a polarized epithelial cell to undergo multiple biochemical changes that enable it to assume a mesenchymal cell phenotype. EMT is involved in embryo development, wound healing, tissue regeneration, organ fibrosis and has also been proposed as the critical mechanism for the acquisition of malignant phenotypes by epithelial cancer cells. These cells have been shown to acquire a mesenchymal phenotype when localized at the invasive front of primary tumours increasing aggressiveness, invasiveness, metastatic potential and resistance to chemotherapy. There is now increasing evidence demonstrating that a crucial role in the development of this process is played by factors secreted by cells of the tumour microenvironment or by the tumour cells themselves. This review summarises the current knowledge of EMT induction in cancer by paracrine or autocrine mechanisms, by exosomes or free proteins and miRNAs.

Keywords: Cancer; Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT); Secreted molecules.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autocrine Communication / physiology*
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / genetics
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / physiology*
  • Exosomes / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / physiology
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Paracrine Communication / physiology*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / physiology*


  • MicroRNAs