The Kraken Wakes: induced EMT as a driver of tumour aggression and poor outcome

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36 Citations (Scopus)


Epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) describes the shift of cells from an epithelial form to a contact independent, migratory, mesenchymal form. In cancer the change is linked to invasion and metastasis. Tumour conditions, including hypoxia, acidosis and a range of treatments can trigger EMT, which is implicated in the subsequent development of resistance to those same treatments. Consequently, the degree to which EMT occurs may underpin the entire course of tumour progression and treatment response in a patient. In this review we look past the protective effect of EMT against the initial treatment, to the role of the mesenchymal state, once triggered, in promoting disease growth, spread and future treatment insensitivity. In patients a correlation was found between the propensity of a treatment to induce EMT and failure of that treatment to provide a survival benefit, implicating EMT induction in accelerated tumour progression after treatment cessation. Looking to the mechanisms driving this detrimental effect; increased proliferation, suppressed apoptosis, stem cell induction, augmented angiogenesis, enhanced metastatic dissemination, and immune tolerance, can all result from treatment-induced EMT and could worsen outcome. Evidence also suggests EMT induction with earlier therapies attenuates benefits of later treatments. Looking beyond epithelial tumours, de-differentiation also has therapy-attenuating effects and reversal thereof may yield similar rewards. A range of potential therapies are in development that may address the diverse mechanisms and molecular control systems involved in EMT-induced accelerated progression. Considering the broad reaching effects of mesenchymal shift identified, successful deployment of such treatments could substantially improve patient outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-308
Number of pages24
JournalClinical and Experimental Metastasis
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


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