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Epithelial-Mesenchymal Plasticity of Breast Cancer Stem Cells: Implications for Metastasis and Therapeutic Resistance

[ Vol. 21 , Issue. 10 ]


Ming Luo, Michael Brooks and Max S. Wicha   Pages 1301 - 1310 ( 10 )


Over the past several decades the traditional view of cancer being a homogeneous mass of rapid proliferating malignant cells is being replaced by a model of ever increasing complexity, which points out that cancers are complex tissues composed of multiple cell types. A large variety of immune and other host cells constitute the tumor microenvironment, which supports the growth and progression of the tumor where individual cancer cells evolve with increasing phenotypic and genetic heterogeneity. Furthermore, it has also become clear that, in addition to this cellular and genetic heterogeneity, most tumors exhibit a hierarchical organization composed of tumor cells displaying divergent lineage markers and at the apex of this hierarchy are cells capable of self-renewal. These “cancer stem cells” not only drive tumor growth, but also mediate metastasis and contribute to treatment resistance. Besides displaying remarkable genetic and phenotypic heterogeneity, cancer stem cells maintain plasticity to transition between mesenchymal-like (EMT) and epithelial-like (MET) states in a process regulated by the tumor microenvironment. These stem cell state transitions may play a fundamental role in the process of tumor metastasis. In this review, we will discuss emerging knowledge regarding the plasticity of cancer stem cells and the role that this plasticity plays in tumor metastasis. We also discuss the implications of these findings for the development of cancer stem cell targeted therapeutics.


Breast cancer stem cells, MET, EMT, metastasis, therapeutic resistance.


, , University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1500 E. Medical Center Dr., Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

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