Epithelial Plasticity in Cancer: Unmasking a MicroRNA Network for TGF-β-, Notch-, and Wnt-Mediated EMT

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Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a reversible process by which cancer cells can switch from a sessile epithelial phenotype to an invasive mesenchymal state. EMT enables tumor cells to become invasive, intravasate, survive in the circulation, extravasate, and colonize distant sites. Paracrine heterotypic stroma-derived signals as well as paracrine homotypic or autocrine signals can mediate oncogenic EMT and contribute to the acquisition of stem/progenitor cell properties, expansion of cancer stem cells, development of therapy resistance, and often lethal metastatic disease. EMT is regulated by a variety of stimuli that trigger specific intracellular signalling pathways. Altered microRNA (miR) expression and perturbed signalling pathways have been associated with epithelial plasticity, including oncogenic EMT. In this review we analyse and describe the interaction between experimentally validated miRs and their target genes in TGF-β, Notch, and Wnt signalling pathways. Interestingly, in this process, we identified a “signature” of 30 experimentally validated miRs and a cluster of validated target genes that seem to mediate the cross talk between TGF-β, Notch, and Wnt signalling networks during EMT and reinforce their connection to the regulation of epithelial plasticity in health and disease.

Journal of Oncology