Our understanding of the cellular mechanisms governing carcinoma invasiveness and metastasis has evolved dramatically over the last several years. The previous emphasis on the epithelial-mesenchymal transition as a driver of the migratory properties of single cells has expanded with the observation that carcinoma cells often invade and migrate collectively as adherent groups. Moreover, recent analyses suggest that circulating tumor cells within the vasculature often exist as multicellular clusters and that clusters more efficiently seed metastatic lesions than single circulating tumor cells. While these observations point to a key role for collective cell migration in carcinoma metastasis, the molecular mechanisms driving collective tumor cell migration remain to be discerned. Wnt/PCP (planar cell polarity) signaling, one of the noncanonical Wnt signaling pathways, mediates collective migratory events such as convergent extension during developmental processes. Wnt/PCP signaling components are frequently dysregulated in solid tumors, and aberrant pathway activation contributes to tumor cell migratory properties. Here we summarize key studies that address the mechanisms by which Wnt/PCP signaling mediate collective cell migration in developmental and tumor contexts. We emphasize Wnt/PCP component localization within migrating cells and discuss how component asymmetry may govern the spatiotemporal control of downstream cytoskeletal effectors to promote collective cell motility.
©2019 American Association for Cancer Research.