, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 415-432

Mechanisms in Epithelial Plasticity and Metastasis: Insights from 3D Cultures and Expression Profiling

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Abstract

Most human tumors are of epithelial origin (carcinomas) and metastases from such tumors lead to <80% of all cancer deaths. In contrast to aberrant control of proliferation, cell cycle, apoptosis, angiogenesis, and lifespan, mechanisms involved in local invasion and metastasis are still insufficiently understood. We will review a set of (often conflicting) in vitro/in vivo data that suggest the existence of several types of epithelial cell plasticity changes towards a fibroblastoid, invasive phenotype, which increasingly emerge as crucial events during metastasis. New cellular models were identified, which form organotypic structures under near-physiological 3D-culture conditions in vitro as well as tumors/metastases in vivo. In these models, key proteins and signaling pathways were identified (e.g., TGFβ, ERK/MAPK, PI3K, and PDGF), which specify distinct types of epithelial plasticity correlated with steps in cancer progression and metastasis. The existence of several distinct epithelial plasticity phenotypes is also strongly suggested by expression profiling of polysome-bound mRNA, yielding a better representation of the proteome than conventional expression profiling.