Int. J. Dev. Biol. 66: 277 - 283 (2022)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.210180gk
© UPV/EHU Press

Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition of tumor cells: cancer progression and metastasis

Vasileios Vardas1, Eleni Politaki2, Evangelia Pantazaka1, Vassilis Georgoulias2, Galatea Kallergi1,*

1Division of Genetics, Cell and Developmental Biology, Department of Biology, University of Patras, Patras, Greece, 2Laboratory of Τumor Cell Biology, School of Medicine, University of Crete, Heraklion, Greece

ABSTRACT Detection and characterization of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) with an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) phenotype is very important, as it can contribute to the identification of high-risk for relapse and death patients. However, most methods underestimate CTC numbers, owing to their dependence on epithelial markers. In the current study, we evaluated the EMT phenotype in CTCs isolated from breast cancer (BC) patients, using the CellSearch system. Spiking experiments for the evaluation of the specificity and sensitivity of our method were performed using HeLa cells. Sixty-five breast cancer (BC) patients (47 early and 18 metastatic) were enrolled in the study. Vimentin is a mesenchymal marker that indicates tumoral cells acquiring invasive and malignant properties. We studied vimentin (VIM) expression using the extra channel of the CellSearch system and an anti-vimentin antibody conjugated with FITC. In our present results, we reported the percentage of circulating tumor cells that expressed vimentin in early and in metastatic breast cancer patients. Interestingly, the incidence of cells with a CK-VIM+CD45- phenotype was detected in both settings. These cells were detected in 31.4% of CK-negative (11/35) and 82.3% of CK-positive (10/12) early BC patients. The corresponding numbers for metastatic disease were 15.4% (2/13) and 100% (5/5), respectively. Our results suggest that in CTC-negative patients, potentially undetectable tumor cells could be identified using the FDA-approved CellSearch system, based on the (CK-VIM+CD45-)-phenotype, offering additional information regarding metastatic dissemination in cancer patients. Further experiments evaluating more biomarkers are necessary to elucidate the mechanisms that regulate tumorigenesis and metastasis.


epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), circulating tumor cells (CTCs), breast cancer, vimentin, cytokeratin

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