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Science. 2013 Nov 8;342(6159):1234850. doi: 10.1126/science.1234850.

Epithelial plasticity: a common theme in embryonic and cancer cells.

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  • 1Instituto de Neurociencias Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC)-Universidad Miguel Hernández (UMH), Avenida Ramón y Cajal s/n, 03550 San Juan de Alicante, Spain.


During embryonic development, many cells are born far from their final destination and must travel long distances. To become motile and invasive, embryonic epithelial cells undergo a process of mesenchymal conversion known as epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Likewise, EMT can be seen in cancer cells as they leave the primary tumor and disseminate to other parts of the body to colonize distant organs and form metastases. In addition, through the reverse process (mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition), both normal and carcinoma cells revert to the epithelial phenotype to, respectively, differentiate into organs or form secondary tumors. The parallels in phenotypic plasticity in normal morphogenesis and cancer highlight the importance of studying the embryo to understand tumor progression and to aid in the design of improved therapeutic strategies.

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