Cancer research

Tracking and Functional Characterization of Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition and Mesenchymal Tumor Cells during Prostate Cancer Metastasis.

PMID 25948589


The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) has been postulated as a mechanism by which cancer cells acquire the invasive and stem-like traits necessary for distant metastasis. However, direct in vivo evidence for the role of EMT in the formation of cancer stem-like cells (CSC) and the metastatic cascade remains lacking. Here we report the first isolation and characterization of mesenchymal-like and EMT tumor cells, which harbor both epithelial and mesenchymal characteristics, in an autochthonous murine model of prostate cancer. By crossing the established Pb-Cre(+/-);Pten(L/L);Kras(G12D) (/+) prostate cancer model with a vimentin-GFP reporter strain, generating CPKV mice, we were able to isolate epithelial, EMT, and mesenchymal-like cancer cells based on expression of vimentin and EpCAM. CPKV mice (but not mice with Pten deletion alone) exhibited expansion of cells with EMT (EpCAM(+)/Vim-GFP(+)) and mesenchymal-like (EpCAM(-)/Vim-GFP(+)) characteristics at the primary tumor site and in circulation. These EMT and mesenchymal-like tumor cells displayed enhanced stemness and invasive character compared with epithelial tumor cells. Moreover, they displayed an enriched tumor-initiating capacity and could regenerate epithelial glandular structures in vivo, indicative of epithelia-mesenchyme plasticity. Interestingly, while mesenchymal-like tumor cells could persist in circulation and survive in the lung following intravenous injection, only epithelial and EMT tumor cells could form macrometastases. Our work extends the evidence that mesenchymal and epithelial states in cancer cells contribute differentially to their capacities for tumor initiation and metastatic seeding, respectively, and that EMT tumor cells exist with plasticity that can contribute to multiple stages of the metastatic cascade.