The epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) phenomenon
The epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) describes a rapid and often reversible modulation of phenotype by epithelial cells. EMT was originally defined in the context of developmental stages, including heart morphogenesis, mesoderm and neural crest formation. Epithelial cells loosen cell–cell adhesion structures throughout EMT. They modulate their polarity, cytoskeleton organization and typically express vimentin filaments and downregulate cytokeratins. They become isolated, mobile and resistant to anoikis. The EMT at least superficially resembles the evolution from normal to transformed cell phenotype during carcinoma progression. The relevance of the concept of EMT in this context was indicated by in vitro models using transformed epithelial cells. Transduction pathways typical of embryogenic EMT in vivo were also found to be activated during cancer progression. More recently, it has been found that such pathways indicate an increased plasticity linked to cellular stemness and ability to generate tumors. However, in the absence of direct evidence, a number of oncologists and pathologists remain skeptical about applying the EMT concept to human tumor progression. Typically in the cancer field, EMT concept appears to be fully relevant in some situations, but the concept has to be adjusted in other situations to reflect tumor cell renewal and plasticity during carcinoma progression and metastasis.