Epigenetic plasticity: A central regulator of epithelial-tomesenchymal transition in cancer

Upasana Bedi, Vivek Kumar Mishra, David Wasilewski, Christina Scheel, Steven A. Johnsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Tumor metastasis is the major cause of mortality and morbidity in most solid cancers. A growing body of evidence suggests that the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) plays a central role during tumor metastasis and frequently imparts a stem cell-like phenotype and therapeutic resistance to tumor cells. The induction of EMT is accompanied by a dynamic reprogramming of the epigenome involving changes in DNA methylation and several post-translational histone modifications. These changes in turn promote the expression of mesenchymal genes or repress those associated with an epithelial phenotype. Importantly, in order for metastatic colonization and the formation of macrometastases to occur, tumor cells frequently undergo a reversal of EMT referred to as the mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition (MET). Thus, a high degree of epigenetic plasticity is required in order to induce and reverse EMT during tumor progression. In this review, we describe various epigenetic regulatory mechanisms employed by tumor cells during EMT and elaborate on the importance of the histone code in controlling both the expression and activity of EMTassociated transcription factors. We propose that a more thorough understanding of the epigenetic mechanisms controlling EMT may provide new opportunities which may be harnessed for improved and individualized cancer therapy based on defined molecular mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2016-2029
Number of pages14
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Cancer
  • Chromatin
  • Epigenetics
  • Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition
  • Metastasis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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