Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a process in which epithelial cells acquire mesenchymal features. In cancer, EMT is associated with tumor initiation, invasion, metastasis, and resistance to therapy. Recently, it has been demonstrated that EMT is not a binary process, but occurs through distinct cellular states. Here, we review the recent studies that demonstrate the existence of these different EMT states in cancer and the mechanisms regulating their functions. We discuss the different functional characteristics, such as proliferation, propagation, plasticity, invasion, and metastasis associated with the distinct EMT states. We summarize the role of the transcriptional and epigenetic landscapes, gene regulatory network and their surrounding niche in controlling the transition through the different EMT states.
Keywords: cancer; epithelial–mesenchymal transition; hybrid EMT; metastasis; plasticity; stemness.
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