Epithelial plasticity and cancer stem cells: Major mechanisms of cancer pathogenesis and therapy resistance

World J Stem Cells. 2017 Aug 26;9(8):118-126. doi: 10.4252/wjsc.v9.i8.118.


Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) has been linked with aggressive tumor biology and therapy resistance. It plays central role not only in the generation of cancer stem cells (CSCs) but also direct them across the multiple organ systems to promote tumor recurrence and metastasis. CSCs are reported to express stem cell genes as well as specific cell surface markers and allow aberrant differentiation of progenies. It facilitates cancer cells to leave primary tumor, acquire migratory characteristics, grow into new environment and develop radio-chemo-resistance. Based on the current information, present review discusses and summarizes the recent advancements on the molecular mechanisms that derive epithelial plasticity and its major role in generating a subset of tumor cells with stemness properties and pathophysiological spread of tumor. This paper further highlights the critical need to examine the regulation of EMT and CSC pathways in identifying the novel probable therapeutic targets. These improved therapeutic strategies based on the co-administration of inhibitors of EMT, CSCs as well as differentiated tumor cells may provide improved anti-neoplastic response with no tumor relapse.

Keywords: Anticancer therapies; Cancer stem cells; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Molecular pathogenesis; Tumor relapse.

Publication types

  • Review