PPBI-Portuguese Platform of BioImaging
Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia
Operacional Competitividade e Internacionalização
ARTICLE ABSTRACTEpithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) has been associated with cancer cell heterogeneity, plasticity, and metastasis. However, the extrinsic signals supervising these phenotypic transitions remain elusive. To assess how selected microenvironmental signals control cancer-associated phenotypes along the EMT continuum, we defined a logical model of the EMT cellular network that yields qualitative degrees of cell adhesions by adherens junctions and focal adhesions, two features affected during EMT. The model attractors recovered epithelial, mesenchymal, and hybrid phenotypes. Simulations showed that hybrid phenotypes may arise through independent molecular paths involving stringent extrinsic signals. Of particular interest, model predictions and their experimental validations indicated that: (i) stiffening of the extracellular matrix was a prerequisite for cells overactivating FAK_SRC to upregulate SNAIL and acquire a mesenchymal phenotype and (ii) FAK_SRC inhibition of cell–cell contacts through the receptor-type tyrosine-protein phosphatases kappa led to acquisition of a full mesenchymal, rather than a hybrid, phenotype. Altogether, these computational and experimental approaches allow assessment of critical microenvironmental signals controlling hybrid EMT phenotypes and indicate that EMT involves multiple molecular programs.
A multidisciplinary study sheds light on microenvironmental signals controlling cancer cell plasticity along EMT and suggests that hybrid and mesenchymal phenotypes arise through independent molecular paths.