Nature Reviews Cancer 9, 265-273 (April 2009) | doi:10.1038/nrc2620

Focus on: Migration and metastasis

Transitions between epithelial and mesenchymal states: acquisition of malignant and stem cell traits

Kornelia Polyak1 & Robert A. Weinberg2  About the authors


Transitions between epithelial and mesenchymal states have crucial roles in embryonic development. Emerging data suggest a role for these processes in regulating cellular plasticity in normal adult tissues and in tumours, where they can generate multiple, distinct cellular subpopulations contributing to intratumoural heterogeneity. Some of these subpopulations may exhibit more differentiated features, whereas others have characteristics of stem cells. Owing to the importance of these tumour-associated phenotypes in metastasis and cancer-related mortality, targeting the products of such cellular plasticity is an attractive but challenging approach that is likely to lead to improved clinical management of cancer patients.

Author affiliations

  1. Department of Medical Oncology, Dana–Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.
  2. Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Ludwig MIT Center for Molecular Oncology and MIT Department of Biology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142, USA.

Correspondence to: Kornelia Polyak1 Email:

Published online 5 March 2009


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