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Cell Biosci. 2017 Nov 7;7:61. doi: 10.1186/s13578-017-0188-9. eCollection 2017.

Tumorigenesis as a process of gradual loss of original cell identity and gain of properties of neural precursor/progenitor cells.

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Model Animal Research Center and MOE Key Laboratory of Model Animals for Disease Study, Nanjing University, 12 Xuefu Road, Pukou High-Tech Zone, Nanjing, 210061 China.


Cancer is a complex disease without a unified explanation for its cause so far. Our recent work demonstrates that cancer cells share similar regulatory networks and characteristics with embryonic neural cells. Based on the study, I will address the relationship between tumor and neural cells in more details. I collected the evidence from various aspects of cancer development in many other studies, and integrated the information from studies on cancer cell properties, cell fate specification during embryonic development and evolution. Synthesis of the information strongly supports that cancer cells share much more similarities with neural progenitor/stem cells than with mesenchymal-type cells and that tumorigenesis represents a process of gradual loss of cell or lineage identity and gain of characteristics of neural cells. I also discuss cancer EMT, a concept having been under intense debate, and possibly the true meaning of EMT in cancer initiation and development. This synthesis provides fresh insights into a unified explanation for and a previously unrecognized nature of tumorigenesis, which might not be revealed by studies on individual molecular events. The review will also present some brief suggestions for cancer research based on the proposed model of tumorigenesis.


Carcinogenesis; Cell fate; Cell lineage; Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT); Neural cells; Neural development; Oncogene; Tumor suppressor gene; Tumorigenesis

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