Context-dependent EMT programs in cancer metastasis

Nicole M. Aiello, Yibin Kang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

373 Scopus citations


Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a developmental process whereby stationary, adherent cells acquire the ability to migrate. EMT is critical for dramatic cellular movements during embryogenesis; however, tumor cells can reactivate EMT programs, which increases their aggressiveness. In addition to motility, EMT is associated with enhanced stem cell properties and drug resistance; thus it can drive metastasis, tumor recurrence, and therapy resistance in the context of cancer. However, the precise requirements for EMT in metastasis have not been fully delineated, with different tumor types relying on discrete EMT effectors. Most tumor cells do not undergo a full EMT, but rather adopt some qualities of mesenchymal cells and maintain some epithelial characteristics. Emerging evidence suggests that partial EMT can drive distinct migratory properties and enhance the epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity of cancer cells as well as cell fate plasticity. This review discusses the diverse regulatory mechanisms and functional consequences of EMT, with an emphasis on the importance of partial EMT.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1016-1026
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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