Epithelial Mesenchymal Transition in Tumor Metastasis

Annu Rev Pathol. 2018 Jan 24:13:395-412. doi: 10.1146/annurev-pathol-020117-043854.


Metastasis is the major cause of cancer-related deaths; therefore, the prevention and treatment of metastasis are fundamental to improving clinical outcomes. Epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT), an evolutionarily conserved developmental program, has been implicated in carcinogenesis and confers metastatic properties upon cancer cells by enhancing mobility, invasion, and resistance to apoptotic stimuli. Furthermore, EMT-derived tumor cells acquire stem cell properties and exhibit marked therapeutic resistance. Given these attributes, the complex biological process of EMT has been heralded as a key hallmark of carcinogenesis, and targeting EMT pathways constitutes an attractive strategy for cancer treatment. However, demonstrating the necessity of EMT for metastasis in vivo has been technically challenging, and recent efforts to demonstrate a functional contribution of EMT to metastasis have yielded unexpected results. Therefore, determining the functional role of EMT in metastasis remains an area of active investigation. Studies using improved lineage tracing systems, dynamic in vivo imaging, and clinically relevant in vivo models have the potential to uncover the direct link between EMT and metastasis. This review focuses primarily on recent advances in and emerging concepts of the biology of EMT in metastasis in vivo and discusses future directions in the context of novel diagnostic and therapeutic opportunities.

Keywords: cancer stem cells; collective migration; epithelial mesenchymal transition; lineage tracing; metastasis; miRNA; resistance; therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / physiopathology
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology