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J Theor Biol. 2010 Aug 7;265(3):329-35.

Investigating the link between epithelial-mesenchymal transition and the cancer stem cell phenotype: A mathematical approach.

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  • 1Department of Applied Mathematics, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1.


Under the cancer stem cell (CSC) hypothesis, sustained metastatic growth requires the dissemination of a CSC from the primary tumour followed by its re-establishment in a secondary site. The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a differentiation process crucial to normal development, has been implicated in conferring metastatic ability on carcinomas. Balancing these two concepts has led researchers to investigate a possible link between EMT and the CSC phenotype-indeed, recent evidence indicates that, following induction of EMT in human breast cancer and related cell lines, stem cell activity increased, as judged by the presence of cells displaying the CD44(high)/CD24(low) phenotype and an increase in the ability of cells to form mammospheres. We mathematically investigate the nature of this increase in stem cell activity. A stochastic model is used when small number of cells are under consideration, namely in simulating the mammosphere assay, while a related continuous model is used to probe the dynamics of larger cell populations. Two scenarios of EMT-mediated CSC enrichment are considered. In the first, differentiated cells re-acquire a CSC phenotype-this model implicates fully mature cells as key subjects of de-differentiation and entails a delay period of several days before de-differentiation occurs. In the second, pre-existing CSCs experience accelerated division and increased proportion of self-renewing divisions; a lack of perfect CSC biomarkers and cell sorting techniques requires that this model be considered, further emphasizing the need for better characterization of the mammary (cancer) stem cell hierarchy. Additionally, we suggest the utility of comparing mammosphere data to computational mammosphere simulations in elucidating the growth characteristics of mammary (cancer) stem cells.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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